Embraced by Resurrection

March 14, 2002

We are reconciled in the Risen Christ

During last year's meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and I were in the same small Bible study group. After that time of coming to know one another as brothers in Christ, Archbishop Peter asked me to visit Nigeria and to lead the annual retreat for his bishops. Seeing something of the life-giving ministry of that rapidly-growing church and being with the bishops were profound experiences of blessing and grace.

I, in turn, invited Archbishop Peter to attend our March House of Bishops meeting, during which we focused our attention on the theme of "Inhabiting Reconciliation" and what it means for bishops to serve as ministers of reconciliation. Archbishop Peter's presence was a singular gift. He told of his election as primate, and of his own call to be a minister of reconciliation in his church. He spoke movingly of a pastoral visitation in a situation of conflict during which he divested himself of his symbols of office - his pectoral cross and episcopal ring - and prostrated himself on the ground urging those who were at enmity to receive his ministry in a spirit of love and reconciliation. He then went on to say: "From the point of view of Scripture, reconciliation is not optional. It is not negotiable. It must be done."

Reconciliation is God's work in us. It is an process of growing up into Christ and involves constant repentance, conversion, and a deliberate choice to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation lies at the heart of the church's mission. It is our way of participating in the ongoing work of Christ, which is the drawing of all people and all things to himself.

During the House of Bishops meeting we considered reconciliation on personal, communal/ecclesial and global levels, that is - within our hearts, within our church community, and - alongside our Anglican brother and sisters - in a global community. Without specific issues in the life of the community - be they ecclesial, such as difference in points of regarding matters of church order, or global, such as the gap between the rich and the poor - there would be no need to engage in the costly work of reconciliation. God confronts us with difference and otherness in order to draw us out of ourselves into the realm of reconciliation.

As we read Scripture we can see that from the earliest days all differences - slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female - all differences were subjected to the fire of God's unrelenting reconciling love. In our own day we continue to be faced with instances of difference and otherness which challenge us and invite us to "bear the pain of expansion not on the rack of human torture but on the glorious being of the Holy Ghost," to use a wonderful phrase from Father Benson, SSJE.

Reconciliation is not easy to bear because it demands of us an undefended heart. An undefended heart is one that is open to the risk of encounter with otherness in ways that may challenge presuppositions and oblige us to adopt new patterns of seeing and being. We must go through a process of dying: dying to our fears and resistances and self-proclaimed rightness.

Soon we will be keeping the Easter feast with its joyful alleluias, profusion of spring flowers, and the proclamation that "Christ is risen!" Resurrection: we proclaim it and sing about it, but what does it really look like when it happens? What shape and form does resurrection take in human lives and in the life of a community grounded in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead?

New life in Christ is not some sort of abstract and disembodied state of unrelieved happiness. New life in Christ brings us to the deep, sober, and abiding realization that who we are and what we are called to be is the fruit of multiple patterns of relatedness, beginning with our fundamental relationship with God. This relationship was established in creation and celebrated in baptism wherein we have been taken into the life of God in the person of Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who is the minister of relatedness and communion. Resurrection is about being overtaken by Christ and re-fashioned into a new humanity which means reconciliation: a reordering of our relationships - to ourselves, to one another, and to the world.

"Do not by hanging down break from the hand, Which as it riseth, raiseth thee," cries the poet George Herbert. The hand that raises us is none other than the hand of the risen Christ. May it truly grasp us and pull us forcefully into that new place, that new way of being where all things have been made one and all differences reconciled in the boundless and deathless love of God.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

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