(A Communion Meditation based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 for Sunday, September 21, 2008)
Reconciliation is one of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary. It names, however, one of the most difficult realities for us to achieve.
The story of Jacob and Esau offers a good example. They were twins, products of the same birth event. Already in the womb they struggled with one another and that struggle continued into their adult lives. After many conflicts and much deception, the brothers got back together in one of the most famous reconciliation scenes in all of literature. Jacob approached Esau in fear, “but Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4). Cheating, lying, manipulation, deception, followed by twenty years of estrangement, and now reconciliation!
Now all is well!
It pays to keep reading, though.
Esau said, “Let’s journey together,” and Jacob replied, “No, that’s too much trouble; you go home to Seir and I’ll see you there.” So Esau said, “How about I leave some of my people with you?” maybe for protection, maybe to keep an eye on his brother. “No,” Jacob said, “that’s not necessary.” So Esau went home to Seir and Jacob went to Succoth.
Reconciled, yes, but at arm’s length; reconciled, yes, but at a distance.
That’s the way that human reconciliation usually is: welcomed but incomplete, gratifying but nervous, together but at a distance. We just can’t do it completely. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the main ones is this: it is a struggle for us to accept forgiveness for our own wrongdoing, much less to take someone else’s wrongdoing onto ourselves, to absorb it and to make it our own so that they can be rid of it. In fact, people who try to do that are usually seen as, and sometimes are, too willing to suffer and to blame themselves for things that are not their fault.
Still, there is something marvelous and glorious because there is something Christ-like about a person who can take someone’s, maybe even some of the world’s, suffering onto himself or herself and thereby become an instrument of reconciliation.
And that is exactly what Christ did on the cross. The reconciliation with God that has been made possible by the cross of Christ is, from God’s side at least, complete. Christ took our sin to the cross with him so that it would not have to be held against us. “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole; is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” Because of his sacrifice the sin that separates us from God has been forgiven and we can live in a full and free relationship with God. From God’s perspective our reconciliation is not partial or grudging or hesitant; it is complete. That is the fact of reconciliation.
Yet there is an invitation to reconciliation that needs to be heard and heeded. “Be reconciled to God,” Paul said. It is available if you will accept it. God has in Christ done all that needs to be done. All that remains is for us to accept God’s invitation and to be reconciled to God. Christ has taken our sin to the cross with him. He has died so that we don’t have to pay the ultimate penalty for our sin. And now he summons you into a personal relationship with him. He offers you the opportunity to be in Christ and thus to be a new creation. He offers you the chance to live a life that is formed by the cross and shaped by the resurrection. Now, you may already be a disciple of Christ, but are you living in the fullness of your reconciliation? Do you hear his call today to live the life that he has made you to live?
Part of living the reconciled life is to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Findley Edge pointed out that the call to salvation is a call to privilege and a call to responsibility, by which he meant that we have the privilege of being saved and the responsibility to minister in Jesus’ name (Findley B. Edge, The Doctrine of the Laity). God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation just as much as God entrusted it to Paul, to Paul’s missionary partners, and to the earliest Christians. God makes the appeal to others through us. Our participation in the ministry of reconciliation is both a privilege and a responsibility; we are privileged and responsible to live a Christ-like life so that others can hear that call through us.
I once read a crime novel in which the quest of a detective to find a kidnapped boy is driven partly by his need to overcome feelings of lostness and brokenness from his own childhood; in bringing that child home maybe he can overcome his own sense of homelessness. I guess that none of us get completely fixed until we get home. Still, isn’t it true that our own reconciliation to God inspires us to offer others that reconciliation? And don’t we do that by living lives that take the pain of others onto ourselves and that willingly suffer and that gladly sacrifice for the sake of others? Isn’t that the result of being reconciled and isn’t that the price of being a reconciler?
So now we come with great joy and humility to the Table of our Lord. Here before us are the elements of reconciliation, the bread and the cup. They are to us reminders of the fact of our reconciliation—in Christ we have been reconciled to God.
May they also be reminders of the invitation to reconciliation. Do you need to come to Christ today? Do you need to live the reconciled life more fully?
May they also be reminders of our ministry of reconciliation. May we leave the table ready to be reconcilers ourselves.
Now, let us approach the elements of reconciliation. Let us approach the table of the Lord.