by the Rt. Rev. David Reed
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:19).
This piercing truth falls within one of Scripture’s most beautifully soaring passages, II Corinthians 5. It becomes the source of our Church’s primary missional claim: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (Catechism, The Book of Common Prayer, p.855). It articulates broadly how the Incarnation is the singular movement of God’s reconciling love into a sinful and alienated world, and how Jesus’ life and ministry embodies this divine movement.
Reconciliation is the on-going work of the Holy Spirit within and out from the Church — we are entrusted with God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ. We are to give as generously as we have received, participating in the Spirit’s labor of love that is reconciliation. Clearly, we have been called to difficult and costly work. The essays and stories in this issue show that anger, pride, and pain are stubborn and powerful within us and in the world around us. But it’s hard to think of an instance when Jesus concludes a command with, “…if you feel like it.”
Our Prayer Book contains a grace-filled pattern for this kind of life together in the rite of The Reconciliation of a Penitent (pp. 447-452). Episcopalians tend to be skittish of “private confession” for pretty good historical reasons. But as often happens, we throw out treasure with the trash, and the rite is little used. The Anglican mantra holds true: sacramental confession is “necessary for some, beneficial for all, required of none.”
Still, this short liturgy illuminates God’s relentless desire for reconciliation, intensely personalizes it, and offers us a healthy spiritual discipline as we seek to be reconciled and to become reconciling followers of Jesus. I commend it to you, whether with a priest or in your personal prayers. If you want “authenticity” in your spiritual life, here it is.
Imbedded in the rite is St. Paul’s claim that, in Christ, “we regard no one from a human point of view.” The perspective is God’s. The priest is present almost as a “third-party” sitting in with God and the penitent. The priest is not judge and jury, but a fellow sinner in need of mercy and grace. Allusions to the parable of the Prodigal Son are woven throughout, and the language is of forgiveness, loving-kindness, restoration and starting anew. There’s no shying away from the reality of our sins and the damage done, but even more important is the breath-taking declaration that, in Christ, sin no longer owns and defines us.
We are set free to receive forgiveness and reconciliation and to practice that in our lives. “Now there is rejoicing in heaven,” we are told, “for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And that’s the amazing grace we love to sing about.
The Rt. Rev. David Reed is bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas