In April 2000, after ten years of community consultation and debate, the Committee formed and charged with defining the various needs to be addressed handed to the leaders of the Australian nation a document addressing reconciliation. This document, part of which is printed below, detailed those events which needed to be recognised and remedied so that this nation could become united in purpose and outlook, whilst preserving the unique characteristics of the cultures of both the indigenous peoples and those who have settled in this nation since 1788. This document incorporates the essential elements required for reconciliation, whether that reconciliation be between ourselves and God, ourselves and those we have harmed (or conversely between those who have harmed us and ourselves), or between ourselves and those organisations, be they religious, political or legislative, which have caused us as individuals and as a community suffering, fragmentation, discrimination, loss of family, friends, children or jobs, or who are responsible for pain in any other area of our lives.
From this document which speaks of the pain and fragmentation of the peoples of Australia, the following statements are relevant to each of us in our daily walk:
“Our nation must have the courage to own the truth, to heal the wounds of its past so that we can move on together at peace with ourselves.
Reconciliation must live in the hearts and minds of all Australians.
Many steps have been taken, many steps remain as we learn our shared histories.
As we walk the journey of healing, one part of the nation apologises and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts the apologies and forgives.”
But it is not only in the words of contemporary Australians that such thoughts find their way to our hearts and minds, for Scripture again and again deals with the subject of sin and reconciliation, between ourselves and God, and also between ourselves and one another. We hear, in the words recorded in Matthew 5: 23-24: “So, then, if you bring your gift to the altar, and if you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go, and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
In the Jewish religion no sacrifice was ever considered enough to atone for deliberate sin – those sins which were committed with deliberate intent – callously, and defiantly – for sacrifice always involved admission (and confession) of sin and true repentance. Such repentance involved attempts to rectify the consequences particular sin might have caused. Not even the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement could avail unless individuals had first been reconciled with their neighbours. The breach between God and an individual could not be healed until the breach between that individual and those who had been wronged had been healed. Since all sacrifice was substitutionary, with the worshipper placing their hands on the beast’s head as he prayed for forgiveness for specific sins, no sacrifice could be considered genuine and true unless confession and restoration were involved. In fact, should it be discovered that reparation had not been effected, any offerings such an individual had brought to be sacrificed would be destroyed – burnt outside the Temple – as unclean. Without first attempting to put things right between one another, one cannot put things right with God.
Jesus, when teaching his followers a new way to pray, included the words “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” In other words we ask God to forgive us only to the extent we are prepared to forgive others. But forgiveness is not enough, for it is but one side of the equation on which reconciliation is built. The other prerequisite is an admission of the sin and a plea for forgiveness, or in the words of the document quoted above: one … apologises and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for the injustices of the past. Without an admission of wrong, without even an awareness of wrongs committed which may have been subsequently buried under the veneer of multiple excuses or so-called justification, there will be no regret, or a request for forgiveness. And without a sense of guilt, without the admission that we have sinned again each other and against God, there is no possibility of reconciliation. Too many individuals and churches speak of “ministries of reconciliation” which, when closely examined, are naught but demands made that one party accedes to the demands of another. There is no sense of working together, instead there is only a determined effort to convince one person or group that they must conform to the dictates of another person or group. Acquiescence to demands such as these are not reconciliation, and there will be no lasting peace or respect between parties. Unresolved hurts or differences will fester and the “patch-up” job will soon fall apart, leaving even greater divisions.
Paul, over and again in his letters to the young churches, speaks of the work of Christ in reconciliation. In Romans 5: 10-11 we read:
“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life. Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
In Paul’s words not only our status (our relationship with God) but also our state is changed by our reconciliation with God. With Christ’s death our old life is also dead. With Christ’s resurrection and new life, so we move from justification to sanctification, until at last we meet Christ face to face. This progress is only possible because we have admitted our fault, our departure from God’s will, and have through repentance moved back into a familial relationship with God. Paul goes on, in Romans 5: 15-17, to expound the concept of all humanity convicted by the sin of our forebears, and into this theology he introduces the remedy, the hope of humanity. For into the situation of our sinfulness came Jesus, and through Jesus we have one person whose life was lived in perfect goodness. Through his life all humanity may become linked with this life of total goodness, absolute sinlessness. For the grace of Christ has defeated death, the penalty for sin, and humanity is offered life. Through Christ humanity is reconciled to God. Paul writes: “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
When writing to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20 he said:
“All this is God’s doing, for he has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ; and he has made us agents of reconciliation. God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself – not counting their sins against them – and has commissioned us with the ministry of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As his personal representatives we say, ‘Make your peace with God.'”
Here is another aspect to reconciliation, in that as reconciled people we have become ambassadors for God. What responsibility and power has an ambassador, for such a person represents the government and people of their country, and speaks on their behalf at international levels. Such is our responsibility and privilege that at times we have to speak for Christ, bringing his message to situations where he is not recognised. Just as an ambassador dwells in a country not their own, so a Christian dwells in a country not their own, for we are citizens of heaven. Our words and actions are the measure by which others judge Christ and the Dominion. Our responsibility is to reconcile the world to God, not God to the world, for God has not wandered from us, God has not sinned against us. It is we who have left God and wandered on our own paths of disobedience and destruction, we who need to turn around and discover that God has continued to wait, arms outstretched in love, for us to return. As ambassadors for God we represent God in our dealings with oppressive individuals and organisations. Our attitude, words and actions must always reflect the love and justice of God. We have no right to voice our own opinions, nor to act on our own behalf, for we speak with the voice and authority of God who has commissioned us.
To the Ephesians Paul spoke of the reconciliation Christ achieved on the cross and of the unity he created between Gentile and Jew by the sacrifice of his own body, thus making irrelevant the antagonism between these people. (Ephesians 2: 13,15-16.) No longer are there distinctions, no longer conflict of cultures or of colour, for all are now one and all citizens of God’s dominion. The spiritual barriers against inclusion of Gentiles in acts of worship are removed, for worship of God is no longer centred in worship in the Temple, but in Christ. No longer is any antagonism relevant in our lives for in Christ’s sacrifice, one body for the world, all conflicts are healed. This is a hard concept to grasp when we see signs of conflict all around us, when we are conscious of the discrimination to which we are subjected, and the vilification which is directed against us. But it is true, and we need to step out in faith and claim this truth. We need to be able to accept that, while we continue to offer Christ’s love, forgiveness and healing the conflicts are but one-dimensional. We may simply refuse to participate in the conflict. In our bodies and lives, in our jobs and our relationships we may bear the brunt of unloving acts, but in our spirits we are conscious of the fact that nothing that may be done to us will mar or shatter our relationship with God. Paul continues this train of thought in Colossians 1: 19-20 where we read: “It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.”
In Christ, and Christ alone, was God encased in human flesh. Therefore in Christ alone was God able to reconcile – bring together again in harmony – all of creation with himself. In and through Christ alone was humanity able to be reconsecrated. Just as a desecrated church may be reconsecrated through an act of reconciliation, so may our lives, desecrated through the effects of sin, be reconsecrated through the act of reconciliation to God. Through his death Christ dealt with the enmity between created and the Creator. He opened the door to the re-establishment of the relationship between ourselves and God. It is never that God needs to be reconciled to humanity, but that we need to be reconciled to God, as it is our sin which has caused the enmity between ourselves and the holy God. Therefore it is humanity’s sin which needs to be dealt with. Humanity, by itself, would be content to live each day without being overly concerned with the results and effects of sin, but God will not tolerate the presence of evil, and sin is evil.
In his letter to the Jewish Christians Paul writes in Hebrews 2: 14, 17:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Here we have Christ described as the pioneer (archegos) of glory, whom William Barclay describes as “One who begins something so that some day others may be born into it; he founds a city so that others may some day dwell in it; he founds a philosophical school that others may follow him into truth and the peace that he himself has discovered; he is the author of blessings into which others may also enter.” Through his suffering Christ identifies with ordinary people, those who have suffered. God can no longer be perceived as remote and unaware of the daily trials and disappointments to which we are subject. Through Jesus Christ God feels our pain, knows our tears, is subjected to persecution, defamation, slander, physical violence and mockery. Through Jesus God has faced our temptations, experienced the death of a close friend, the rejection by family, treachery by religious officials and political assassination.
James, the brother of Jesus also speaks of sin and reconciliation in James 4: 4-6a:
“Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy. Do you think what the Scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? No, he gives us grace potent enough to meet this and every other evil spirit, if we are humble enough to receive it.”
Jesus warned of this choice in his words recorded in Matthew 6: 24: “No one can serve two masters.” It is always our choice, no matter how we may attempt to justify the result, whether to cling to our Creator who loves us passionately or give our allegiance to worldly things and values. To disobey God can be likened to breaking a marriage vow, or an oath given in law. It is when we insist on living and judging by human standards we will inevitably be at variance with God. This earth is not our home, any more than the flesh we wear is our true body, and while we are expected to care properly for our bodies and our environment, our eyes and heart should be aware that these are but temporary. We may either use the world or be used by it. Material things, though beautiful to look at, or to listen to, to touch or feel, are all destined to fail, to return to dust. Only love and all that emanates from our love for God are safe from corruption, and will move with us into the dimension of eternity. Only reconciliation with our Creator and with one another will allow such love to develop and grow until, like a rose, its fragrance will testify to its presence.
The Greek words translated in the New Testament which refer to Christ’s role in reconciliation are the noun katallage and the verbs katallasso and apokatallasso. Reconciliation refers not to the establishment of good relations, but to the doing away with enmities, and the bridging of difference and quarrels. It refers to two (or more) parties which were previously at enmity with each other. An enemy is not someone who is distant, or not quite a friend. An enemy is someone who is diametrically opposed to one, whose opposition is not passive, but active. The only way to deal with enmity is to remove the cause of the quarrel or difference. When we are to be reconciled with one another this may involve an apology, compensation or perhaps restitution. As sinners we have turned our backs on God whose love for us never changes, never grows dim. Christ, standing between us and God as a bridge, has been able to effect our reconciliation with God, reconciliation which is available to all who are prepared to admit their faults and, in asking forgiveness, return to God’s family as a reconsecrated person. Life is far too short, too uncertain, to take a chance on even one “tomorrow”. It is a dangerous game we play, one far more deadly than Russian roulette, when we refuse to admit our errors and seek reconciliation with one another. Tomorrow may well be the beginning of eternity for many of us, an eternity in which we will regret those pangs of conscience which bid us to return to the love of God we once knew, by first seeking healing of all the circumstances we have created by our selfishness, pride and arrogance. Reconciliation not only allows us a second chance at friendships, and in our relationship with various organisations and authorities, it also brings in its train a deep sense of peace and an unequalled awareness of God’s love.
In closing I would like to share another quote from Australia, this time from A Prayer Book for Australia (Shorter Edition) …..Occasional Prayers:
Lord God, bring us together as one,
reconciled with you and reconciled with each other.
You made us in your likeness,
you gave us your Son, Jesus Christ.
He has given us forgiveness from sin.
Lord God, bring us together as one,
different in culture, but given new life in Jesus Christ,
together as your body, your Church, your people.
Lord God, bring us together as one,
reconciled, healed, forgiven,
sharing you with others as you have called us to do.
In Jesus Christ, let us be together as one. Amen.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.