This edition of Connections is about reconciliation, looked at from various angles. All the stories and testimonies presented here center on overcoming separation, enmity and prejudice within the framework of Christian faith. This is the true work and the true Sabbath of the church, which is constantly called and empowered to break down walls and bring people together. As the Letter to the Ephesians says, “Christ is our peace… He has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (2:14). The author is referring specifically to Jews and Gentiles, but the passage is applicable to every wall raised by pride and greed; whether racist, sexist or xenophobic.
We often assume that reconciliation with one another is our primary goal as Christians. That’s true, but only if we don’t forget that reconciliation begins with God, not us. Paul tells us that God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Cor 5:18), but a better translation might be that we have been given the ministry of the reconciliation – the reconciliation that God has set in motion through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:18).
reconciliation begins with God, not us
So we are called to be reconcilers, but that’s not where we start. We start by accepting or rejecting God’s offer of reconciliation with us, individually and collectively. That requires us to recognize our own reluctance to be reconciled with our enemies, and the distance that this reluctance places between us and God, who demands that we always seek God’s grace even for those who least deserve it, even ISIS. We must resist their cruelty with all our hearts, through and by all legitimate means, just as our parents and grandparents resisted the Nazis in their day, but we separate ourselves from God if we demonize these enemies and regard them as being beyond the reach of love. Why? Because each of us has been embraced by God when we least deserved it: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10).
This is a good lens to look through at Easter, since Easter, which is inseparable from Good Friday, is first and foremost about how Jesus’ supreme act of love on the cross (his total refusal to hate) opens the way for us to start over every day to live our lives out of love. We are reconciled to God by his death because he demonstrated God’s infinite love for us. We are saved by his resurrection because the story is not now over. We have time and eternity to take God’s love in.
It’s not just that Jesus offers us a model to imitate – we have such models in Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero, among many others. If we were just trying to emulate a role model, we would soon fail. What we have in Jesus is God’s own participation in our weakness and need, so that God’s love can become our love, and God’s goodness can become our vehicle for change. Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection mean that the torrent of God’s love is available to us here and now. Indeed, we were fashioned by God to receive and channel that torrent in our daily lives, making it available to others.
So back to reconciliation, which comes from the Latin word for returning into the council chamber, like negotiators who had left the room and are now willing to talk. For all of us, there are negotiations that have broken down, or conversations we have been afraid to have. Jesus is always calling us back into the room. How shall we do that?
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word we translate as reconciliation offers us another entryway into the concept. Katallage literally means a change-down, or a complete change. In Greek literature it came to mean a turn-around in a relationship, so that conversation could resume.
For all of us, there are negotiations that have broken down, or conversations we have been afraid to have. Jesus is always calling us back into the room. How shall we do that?
I like the idea of reconciliation as a “change-down.” It reminds me of a hoedown – getting down to dancing when the day’s work is over. Or the slang expression for being okay with a suggested course of action: “I’m down with that.” Looked at this way, reconciliation as change-down means knowing that God has chosen to come down to us in Jesus, and so everything is indeed changed – God is “down” with us, and so we can take the risk of putting our false work aside– everything we do to defend our positions in an at atmosphere of hostility – and enter into the hoedown that is our true work and our true rest. Are we down with that? I pray so.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal is the Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at email@example.com.