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By The Reverend Canon Dr. William J. Danaher, Jr.
One of my favorite portions of Scripture is from the writings of St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:16-18:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So 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.
The first time I heard these words was in college, at a concert of the South African singing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They had a breakout hit, “Homeless,” (1986) performed with Paul Simon. At the concert, they performed another song that repeated — almost word for word — the verses above.
It is hard for me to capture in a few words the impact of these spiritual words, sung at that time, in a very secular auditorium at Brown University. Before hearing them that night, I had interpreted these words in an entirely personal way — as a reminder of my own powerful experience of conversation, which had happened when I was 16.
However, that night, the interpretation performed by the singing group was entirely interpersonal and even political. Singing these words before the fall of Apartheid, the group was drawing attention in a powerful way to the fact that the “new creation” we experience in Christ does not happen within ourselves alone, but is meant to be a way of being in the world. Because of the experience of being made new in Christ, we, therefore, must treat everyone as if they were already what God is calling them to be. Therefore, no matter how frustrated we might become or difficult things might seem — and in Apartheid South Africa, there were many reasons to be frustrated and many things that were difficult — Christ was calling the group, and all of us, to become a reconciled people made new in Christ.
Reconciliation, then, is not something we experience in the past. It is not a history to be remembered. It is a present to experience and a future to live into. This is what it means to participate in the “ministry of reconciliation” entrusted to us by Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we already experience the fruits of reconciliation, and certainly there are many relationships and social structures that remain polarized, broken and embittered. However, the ministry of reconciliation requires that we pray, and claim, a future in which we all will be reconciled through God and Christ.
This is literally good news — the Gospel for us here and now. It is often said that forgiveness and reconciliation are different in that forgiveness can be practiced by one person, but reconciliation requires more than one person. If this is so, then forgiveness is the first step in practicing the ministry of reconciliation. We forgive another not only by letting go of the wound they caused, but by celebrating the “new creation” Christ is creating in them, and in us.
As Canon Sarah Snyder and Bishop James Newcome are with us this weekend, let this visit be for each of us a moment to live into the new creation Christ is calling us to be. Take a moment to pray for someone who has hurt you, and even someone you have hurt. Place them in God’s hands. Place the broken relationship in God’s hands. Ask for God’s grace to begin living into the future Jesus has brought into being through his cross and resurrection.