Over the last week or so, I have found myself pondering the nature of reconciliation and what it might have to offer to us as we continue to navigate tumultuous waters in our common life as people living in the United States of America. I say it in that way because we are in a time in which all the lives of all people living inside the borders of our country right now are being impacted. We are, in some ways, in a traumatic moment in the life of our country. The ground underneath our feet is shifting, and we are not quite certain where we are going to end up just yet.
It feels like all of this started on January 6, 2020 when a mob of people violently entered the U.S. Capitol building, but I think it is far more likely that the events of January 6, 2020 were the culmination of other events in our common life. We went through a period of time in which serious doubts were being cast on our common life. It has been a time in which we have all felt the wounds of disordered politics. I say disordered politics because politics, when practiced with the mind of serving the greater needs of the many, is a laudable act of service and vocation. Disordered politics is something that arises out of a greed for something – money, power, influence, or something else altogether. The greed overtakes the laudable service of practicing politics and distorts into something that nobody is able to recognize as something that could be understood as the practice of a Christian vocation. (By the way, if, while you were reading this paragraph, you only thought of the political party that you disagree with the most, I invite you also to recognize that I am applying this to the whole of our politics right now – not simply to one political party or another.)
Thus, we are left with a question of how to return to a politic that is reflective of God’s love in our midst. We are asked, as a community of faith, how to practice the politics of church in a way that is visible to the community around us. After all, we all know that the church is a political entity insofar as we come together from different walks of life and with different understandings of the call of the Gospel. In coming together as a community, we must engage in the work of politics to discern how to use the resources God is entrusting to our parish in a given time. We do this most regularly in the annual parish meeting when we review the proposed budget for the parish and vote on whether to accept the budget as presented or to accept an amended version of the budget. We also do this when we cast ballots for the members of our vestry, and within each council of our parish, members come together to decide what ministries are being called forth from the council. Quite regularly, we practice politics in the church without the animosity that we see in the news.
Perhaps the most radical difference is the level of accountability that exists within a parish church like ours and the form of accountability that exists in other forms of politics. It seems that the closeness of the community that comprises the Church is key to how we practice the sharing of power in the church. Hopefully, it also has to do with the fact that we are striving to mirror the behavior of Christ Jesus in our own discipleship. In other words, we are not attempting to get more power for ourselves in the way that we walk with each other in Christ; instead, we are steadily looking for ways to share power and authority with one another in the ways that we move forward as a community. It is a practice of self-emptying for the good of the whole. We, as the body of Christ, value the needs of the other above our own individual needs. It is one way that we embody the words of the Christ hymn found in Philippians 2.
Currently, we are practicing this in a very subtle way through the Congregational Vitality Assessment and the visioning sessions that are to come in February and March. The Vestry, recognizing that having more voices at the table is a good thing, sought to get input from the whole parish in both of these actions. In lieu of coming up with a strategic vision for the parish of its own accord, the Vestry is working to put into place a practice of creating a wider and wider table that invites a diversity of voices as we move forward in our discipleship.
So, what exactly, does all of this have to do with reconciliation? Perhaps, it is everything. The Rite of Reconciliation, which you might also know as Confession, is an ages old practice in the church in which a penitent comes to a priest or minister to seek the absolution of God for sins committed. It is located in the Book of Common Prayer within the pastoral offices. In other words, it is an office that focuses on relationship and maintaining community.
The rite itself has two different forms that each follow a unique shape – one is Roman in shape and the other is Eastern in shape. The Roman rite is one that we are all familiar with because we have witnessed it in films and movies so many times. A person goes into the confessional and says to the priest, “Father, bless me, for I have sinned.” The rite following the Eastern shape begins with a prayer that the priest and penitent say together after which the penitent says, “Pray for me, a sinner.” In each rite, the penitent is invited to name, as specifically as possible, the sins for which absolution is sought. It is a practice of looking back over the contours of one’s life to notice those moments in which a person has turned away from God. It is a practice of noticing the moments in which a person has failed to love a neighbor as an extension of the self, and it is a practice of seeking new relationship by recognizing those moments and seeking forgiveness of God and of the person that has been hurt.
In the Church, it is expected that we account for the moments that we have failed to live according to the ways of God’s household. As Christians, we believe that new life comes out of those moments of confessing the times that we have practiced evil. In the Church, we believe in the practice of accountability in a way that builds up new relationship and helps to live even more faithfully into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also know that there are moments that we will not be able to notice those moments in which we have caused pain to another, and we will need others to come to us to help us see how doing X resulted in Y, which pained another person.
Perhaps it is this level of accountability to one another that the world is in need of right now, and perhaps it is that the world needs to see that practicing reconciliation in this fashion is how we continue to walk together in love and continue to know God.