As I write these words, I still reflect upon a midsummer visit I made to Armenia and the ancient church of that land, which has borne the marks of suffering and martyrdom across the centuries.
One of the most moving moments during my time there was a visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the death in 1915 of more than 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. Returning to my hotel following that visit, I learned of the bombings that just occurred in London, and I grieved afresh for this new loss of life.
Peace eludes us. Our making common cause as God’s children has seemed beyond our reach since the beginnings of history. Because we so hunger for peace -- in our hearts, our homes, our church, our nation and on “this fragile earth, our island home” -- a word very much with us is “reconciliation.” It finds its way into a number of conversations and reflections. Since reconciliation is at the very heart of the gospel, it is important for us, in a sea of understandings and interpretations, to reclaim its deepest meaning.
First of all, reconciliation is not a human construction; it is God’s action revealed in the person of Christ. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). It is through the self gift of Jesus upon the cross that all things have been drawn together and all disparities and walls of hostility and division have been torn down.
An essential component of our baptismal incorporation into Christ’s eternal priesthood is our willingness to allow the Spirit to make present through us in our own time and place the reality of what God has accomplished in Christ. As well, reconciliation is at the very heart of the ministry of those of us who are called to be bishops. When a new bishop is consecrated, we pray that the new bishop’s heart may be so filled with the love of God and all the people that he or she may serve before God “day and night in the ministry of reconciliation.”
At the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter, the deacon sings the ancient proclamation: “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and [humankind] is reconciled to God.” As we hear these words, which proclaim the reconciliation of seeming opposites, and recall and reground ourselves within our baptismal identity, we know ourselves to be “ministers of reconciliation.”
For as St. Paul tells us: “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 … entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2Corinthians 5:18-19).
The capacity to be an authentic minister of reconciliation is not derived from our natural abilities but flows from the love of God made active within our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices, we might be merely “tolerant.” We might make a fragile agreement to coexist. This bears nothing of the depth and costliness of real reconciliation, which involves the cross.
Here I am not thinking of the cross simply as an external symbol that in some way offers us inspiration but rather of our own crucifixion – the crucifixion of our judgments and our ego’s need to win the day.
Reconciliation involves the purification of our desires. What do we truly desire? Do we genuinely wish to encounter Christ in the one who seems so distant from us, so utterly “other,” and who may even threaten our sense of order and rightness?
True reconciliation has very little to do with whether we agree or disagree. It has everything to do with whether we truly wish to discern the presence of Christ in one another below or beyond our divisions and varying opinions.
This costly and difficult work is our work. It is our most important work on this earth. Mission in its varying aspects has reconciliation at its heart. Instead of bemoaning the lack of reconciliation, we must invite the Spirit to give us the courage and stamina to be who we are called to be in virtue of our baptism: ministers of reconciliation within the body of Christ for the sake of the world.