Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reconciliation - Do We Really Mean It?

And can we really do it? We talk about it. We try to practice it in worship - that whole "Peace be with you" thing is about practicing reconciliation. It is about offering peace to the people who are near us, so that we can go out into the world and offer peace to others. Though, the trouble is that it is really easy to offer peace to people in church, especially to people we really like and admire or to strangers who we don't know at all. Offering peace to real people in the real world is lots harder, particularly when those people hurt you.

As I reflect on the readings for this week, especially the Gospel passage which is Matthew 18:21-35, I am thinking about reconciliation in my own life; especially about a friendship that is currently in disrepair. In a moment of confusion and misunderstanding, a friend hurt my feelings and in reaction I have sort of recoiled and kept my distance. And, in this place, I wonder what to do now.

Reconciliation. How do we do it? The culture, and some of my friends, have suggested that my friend's offense was unforgiveable. Their counsel has been that I shouldn't stand for this sort of behavior and that I should just move on. But somehow that seems wrong to me. It just seems like that isn't what God calls us to do.

Reconciliation is not just something we talk about and practice, but we think it is important enough to make it a sacrament. Reconciling is something that has had traditions and rituals around it for thousands of years - read the OT, there are specific rituals for repairing relationships between people, and it was an important part of living in community. Jesus talks about it all the time, as is evident in this week's reading: "How often should I forgive, seven times?" Jesus says, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times." And then there is that "turn the other cheek" business. Forgiveness and reconciliation was not something that Jesus was ambiguous about, Jesus was pretty clear that we do it - we reconcile, we forgive because God does it. God extends grace to us because otherwise we would be a wreck without it. And if God can extend grace to us, then we can extend grace to others.

But dang, can it be hard. And especially when the outside world doesn't understand why we are doing it. It seems weak. It looks to the world like we are willing to be abused. It looks like we don't have any self-esteem. But really, I think it is the opposite. I think the easy way out is to just walk away - I think the weak are those that "just move on." I think it takes an incredible amount of confidence and courage to stay in the dialogue and forgive. Well, at least that's what it feels like to me. It's hard to reconcile, but how can we call ourselves Christians and not be willing to at least give it a try?


Anonymous said...

I was just reading yesterday about the exchange of the peace in Howard E. Galley's The Ceremonies of the Eucharist: A Guide to Celebration (p. 97), and contemplating the very questions that you are raising. He notes that along with being a "...sign of love, affection, and greeting [and a] sharing of that peace bestowed by the risen Christ, ...It is also a sign of reconciliation and, in the early church, an unwillingness to exchange it with any of the faithful assembled was considered to disqualify one from participation in the eucharistic sacrifice and from receiving communion (Matt. 5:23-24)."

~And then there's that wonderful hymn about the happy simple fisherfolk (Hymnal 1982, #661). The fourth verse says it all:

"The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, yet let us pray for but one thing--the marvelous peace of God."

I think you are right that we are called to at least try. Genuinely try. Shake the dust off our shoes if we need to later. The process of reconciliation may well bring us strife but, without it, I wonder if there can be any of that marvelous peace of God.

Anonymous said...

Amen! Well stated.