Sat in Coventry Cathedral looking from the new out onto the old Cathedral ruins, darkness blotting out the path I began to comprehend that reconciliation is about more than bringing people or community groups back together. Reconciliation is about far more than restoring what used to be. Reconciliation is transformative, it is scary, and it is what God calls us all to do.
The action of sending Jesus to live amongst us was transformative, it changed the dynamic of things. Jesus demanded us to think about our neighbour, to not be self-centred or pious but to see our relationship with God through a different lens.
One of the first exemplars of this was Anthony of Egypt. Anthony entered the desert at a time when the Church was facing great persecution, he believed that the Church could do more to encourage people to live differently. This call was heard by others and soon people sought him out with the desire to deepen and reconcile their relationship with God. Anthony had a saying, he used to say: ‘Our life and death is with our neighbour.’ It is through seeingour neighbour, truly seeing them as reflections of God, that reconciliation can take place. Not just seeing them and moving on but seeing them and responding to their need, as well as letting them respond to ours.
It would have been far easier for the community of Coventry Cathedral to have responded to the bombing which destroyed the cathedral by taking the upper hand; to focus on forgiving them and praying for them. To write the words “Father, forgive them”, would not have cost them a thing. This would not have led to transformation, it would not have bridged the divides between two waring nations. The words: “Father, forgive”, on the other hand acknowledge the part we all have to play in the perpetual messiness of life. These are the words written on the old Cathedral walls. Father, forgive.It is far more difficult for us to acknowledge the role we play in hurting others. Far harder to ask for forgiveness than to offer it out. Coventry Cathedral models a radical, and frankly messy, model for reconciliation. It is true reconciliation however because it acknowledges the role we all play.
As you stand, shoulder to shoulder, with friend and stranger and respond to the litany of reconciliation in the Old Cathedral ruins you become aware of the part you have played. But you also become aware of the part you could play. For where there is remorse there is hope. From the old Cathedral you can stare across the void into the new and you are reminded that God came to birth hope out of destruction. To offer reconciliation in the midst of all the messiness and pain.
It can only be through deepening our relationship with God though that we are able to begin to deepen our relationships with others. It is through being aware of our neighbour that we can see God Invisible become more visible, as the Message translation paraphrased:
‘The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
True from start to finish.
Anthony set an example which is hard to follow, to reject the world and be reconciled to God through Christ. Coventry Cathedral’s history and mission reminds us of the challenge of acknowledging the role we all play in causing pain. These may not be the easiest examples to follow but they are important reminders to those of us who wish to work towards reconciliation. They remind us that at the heart of reconciliation is God. That at the heart of everything is God. They tell us that it is only God who can transform and forgive, and they challenge us to see our neighbour through God’s eyes. It is only when we make the invisible visible and acknowledge God, present amongst us, can we work towards reconciliation. Reconciliation of other-to-other but also our own reconciliation, through Christ, to God.
As you journey with me on my journey of reconciliation, whatever that may look like, I will be offering short blogs about reconciliation and about the #JourneyofHope that I am on. Some will be practical, others more theoretical, but at the heart of these blogs will be the desire, shown in the life of Anthony of Egypt, to deepen our relationship with God and to make the invisible God more visible in our communities and world.