We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
R is for Reconciliation.
So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation : everything old has passed away; see, everything has
become new! All this is
from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the
ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the
world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the
message of reconciliation to us. [2 Corinthians 5: 17-19]
Much of the pain and sorrow we face in the world arises from disunity and disharmony. Conflicts between individuals, families, groups, countries and even between humanity and the rest of the environment, point to a basic fault in the relationships which govern our lives. As it is with our relating to other people, so it is in our relating to God.
There is an element in our lives which means we can never quite achieve that perfect unity of love and of purpose for which we long. We may, at times, get close but even in the most harmonious of relationships there are times of strain, argument, and injury. To know fully and to be fully known, to love completely and to be completely loved, lies ever just beyond our grasp.
The Christian Tradition calls this basic fault in our relating to self, to others, and to God, Sin. It is that fundamental self-centredness which transforms the desire for harmony and unity with others, into the desire for power and control. It is the urge within us, not to be one of God’s creatures, but to replace God the Creator altogether.
What Saint Paul is saying in the passage above, is that in Christ, God has established a new way of relating for human beings. God has found a solution to the age-old problem of Sin. In Christ, God has reconciled us, which means he has brought us together in love and harmony, with himself. Not only that, but with and through Christ we can be reconciled to each other and to ourselves (how often is the easiest person to hate and the hardest to forgive our own self?). Old injuries, hurt and pain will be forgiven and healed. A fresh start is available: “everything has become new”.
Of course, we still await the final fulfillment of this work. Our lives and the world are far from perfect. But the promise of full reconciliation is one of the central messages of the Christian Faith: Forgiveness, love, harmony, and reconciliation are freely available in Christ. One day God’s Kingdom will be fully established “on earth as it is in heaven”, and God’s love and forgiveness will rule the day.
One of the surprising things about this amazing gift of reconciliation is that God, as Saint Paul says, “has given us the ministry of reconciliation,” and entrusted “the message is reconciliation to us.” For some reason, God has given his Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, a role in his ministry of bringing love, unity and forgiveness. Together, we are to be an avenue of God’s grace and mercy. A key purpose for Christians and the Church is to bring about reconciliation. It can do this in three areas:
First, the Christian community should be a place which is loving and caring to all so that people find a safe environment in which to be open and honest and so be reconciled to themselves.
Second, the Christian community should promote unity and harmony in wider society. It should seek justice for all so that different people and groups can be reconciled to one another. It should work against those forces in the world which aim to increase division and hatred between people.
Third, the Christian community
at its core should be about reconciliation between humans and God. This is the
most important. In order to be reconciled to one another, we need to be
reconciled to God, who is the source of all love, forgiveness, and unity. We do
this in many different ways. For example, at each Eucharist we begin by asking
our Heavenly Father for forgiveness. Also, we have two seasons of penitence each
year, Advent and Lent, when we concentrate on our need of God’s forgiveness
and mercy. And we have the sacrament of reconciliation (going to confession)
where we ask God to forgive us and hear the assurance of God’s love. The
emphasis in each of these Church practices is not what terrible
people we are (a common misunderstanding, particularly about ‘going to
confession) but rather what a great God we have who freely forgives us. God
wants to set us free. There is no need whatsoever to walk around burdened by
guilt and sin.