by Christopher Page, incumbent at St Philip, Oak Bay
This article first appeared on inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com. It is reprinted here with permission.
Paul placed reconciliation at the heart of Christian life and practice:
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. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
The Greek word Paul uses here is καταλλάσσω. It is not entirely clear what Paul meant by this word. It and its derivatives occur rarely in the New Testament. But, whatever Paul intended, he certainly wanted his readers to understand that καταλλάσσω lies at the heart of God’s work in Christ and at the heart of the calling of those who understand themselves to have benefited from God’s work in Christ.
The English word “reconcile” comes from the Latin “reconciliare” and is made up of the prefix “re” meaning “back” and the root word “conciliare” which means “to bring together.” So, in its origin “to reconcile” is to bring back together that which has been separated.
At the heart of the English word “to reconcile” is the idea that something that was once united has become separated. Reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship that once existed.
The younger son in Jesus’ story told in Luke 15 began the story in relationship with his father. But, the young man son walked away from his relationship with his father. He separated himself from his home and from his family. When he began to experience the depths of his loss and the ache of his need, the young man turned back and sought to restore the relationship he once had. This is reconciliation.
Most us could probably make a list of relationships which have become painfully fragmented. These broken relationships may never be restored to their former intimacy. In some cases, the most we can hope for by way of reconciliation may be that we treat each other with civility and respect.
It is unrealistic to assume that every human relationship is going to be equally open, deep, intimate, and warm, especially after traveling through treacherous and painful territory. There may be legitimate reasons why a return to full, open, trusting intimacy is not possible. Sometimes, just being able to get along is the best for which we can hope. There is no guilt or shame in the face of a relationship that is not perfectly restored. There are relationships into which it is neither wise nor perhaps even safe to return to a previously experienced closeness.
The key question in every relationship is the state of my heart. Am I able to stay open to any possibility in relationship to you? Am I able to respond to you from a place of honesty, without needing you to change or become someone you are unable at this moment to become.
This quality of openness requires inner strength and a secure sense of identity. We are, Paul says, “in Christ… a new creation.” The reconciling power of Christ lives within us. We are therefore able to be “ambassadors for Christ,” through whom “God is making his appeal.”
God’s appeal for healing, peace, and restoration is made through the way I live in relationship to all people. I am an incarnation of that Spirit of healing that was fully embodied in Jesus and, through Christ, is born in every heart that is surrendered to love. As every heart surrendered in love, lives in the power of the reconciling work of Christ, the reach of reconciliation is unlimited.