Reconciliation and Relationship: A reading of Genesis 2

In Genesis 2 God created Adam and Eve out of nothingness. On Ash Wednesday Christians around the world with gather in churches and receive the sign of the cross on their forehead, and will hear these words:

“Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return, repent and turn to Christ.” 

These words remind us that we were created by God, whether man or woman we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are not God, we do not have all the answers and that is okay because our God is a God of mystery. We believe in the mystery because we were created within that mystery. Whether man or woman we were created in unity and in mutuality to help creation flourish, we have strayed from that call and I think God is calling us back into relationship with creation. 

Genesis 2 tells us the story of Man and Woman being created in unity. In unity with each other and in unity with the world. It tells of a vision which we should strive for, a perfect unity in which all can live and move and have our being. Yet, we only have to go to Genesis 3 to hear of human’s response to that very vision. To read the story of Adam and Eve becoming creatures of oppression, trapped in a cycle of abuse. We read about them being tainted, of Sinentering the world. However, throughout the ensuing story one thing remains: God’s desire to be in relationship with us. Throughout the story there is always the possibility for change, for reconciliation back to God. 

         God is calling us back into relationship, trying to reconcile our relationship with the planet as well. That doesn’t mean that we are being called back into relationship with a church denomination, or a specific set of belief, but we are being called back into relationship with the God who made us and the God who loves us. In Genesis 2 we read of God wanting us to be in partnership. Not just union as Man and Woman, but for us to live in union with the whole of creation. Israel’s faith reflected this. The story of Israel demonstrated a people who understood their call to live in a world where solidarity, fidelity and responsibility are essential. Israel had a word for this, and that word is Shalom. Shalom, which has been mistreated and misinterpreted, means much more than peace. Shalom is about wholeness, about mutuality and about unity. Shalom is the kind of peace which can only come from the true flourishing of all. Shalom is not the kind of unity which we can pay lip service to, it is the unity which is found in God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

On the surface the word reconciliation can seem daunting. I know it was for me when I sat in a room with 20 other Christian leaders who appeared to have far more experience than I did. It also seems like big dream stuff, the desire of reconciling waring nations, divided communities or a fractured church. Yet at the heart of reconciliation is relationship. This is what Genesis 2 reminds us of. It reminds us that we are not just called into relationship with each other. We are called into relationship with God and with the planet. How often do we perceive Christian faith in terms of mission and evangelism? In terms of oppression and belief systems. We want to reconcile our fellow society to God, and yet we fail to think about our own journey. We fail to think about how our life reflects and demonstrates God’s desire to be in relationship with us.

Genesis 2 tells us a story of relationship. It reminds us of our calling into relationship and unity; relationship with each other, relationship with the planet and relationship with God. All our life decisions should reflect that desire for God to be in relationship with ALL of creation. Relationship is key to our reading of the Bible, our living out our Christian faith and our striving for reconciliation and peace.

The Eucharist: Unity and Reconciliation

Every Friday, after the Litany of Reconciliation, those who wish process into  Coventry Cathedral and gather in the Chapel of Unity to take part in the Eucharist. They gather not as Protestant or Catholics; Anglican or Methodist, but as Christian brothers and sisters stood around the alter facing each other. There is something very powerful about facing somebody, to see somebody over the alter. I am always reminded, as I come to preside at the Eucharist that we are all gathered as individuals who are, in those moments, united by our faith. We are all unique, diverse, created by God in God’s likeness but in communion we are reminded of our common body. The body of Christ gathered, facing each other, ready to receive Christ’s body afresh.

The Chapel of Unity is dedicated to this mission, to unite ‘the Anglican Church and the Free Church together for Christian service in Coventry.’ Born out of pain and suffering this mission was dreamt of in 1945 and eventually took shape in the chapel that is present today. It is a constant reminder of the unity which we seek and the risk it involves. The room is not perfect, in fact the floor slopes down to where to alter sits. But then the work of reconciliation isn’t perfect either; it is always messy, always difficult and never fully complete. Yet, in the Eucharist we get a sense of its completion. We begin to glimpse what we, as Christians, are striving towards and we begin to hope for a better world. 

The Eucharist is one of the most significant acts of worship in the Church; whether you call it Mass or the Lord’s Supper, what we are doing is remembering what Christ did for us and what Christ calls us to do. The word Eucharist, which is what most people call this shared meal means “thanksgiving” and you truly get a sense of giving thanks when you are gathered inside the new Cathedral having come in from the old. 

Gathered

This is the one of first things to take place in any Eucharist service. There should always be time for preparation for the Eucharist and in Coventry it is the Litany of Reconciliation which acts as the preparation. But, after the preparation comes the Gathering. The Gathering transforms the gathered individuals, however many are present, into a gathered community ready for worship. It reminds them why they are there and points them on their journey towards Christ.

The idea of journeying is very prominent in the work of reconciliation. It may not come as a surprise that those who want to achieve reconciliation are often journeying towards it. As pilgrims we gather together and begin our collective journey. But journey’s are no good without a destination, you can wander aimlessly for hours, getting lost, unsure of where you are going if you don’t have a destination to speak of. In the Eucharist the destination is Christ, at the very heart of the Eucharist is Christ. It is the same for the journey of reconciliation, as Christians, at the heart of reconciliation is Christ. We are being called to be reconciled to God through Christ. 

Reminded

Next comes the liturgy of the word. However short this is, it is an important part of the Eucharist and therefore shouldn’t be rushed or skipped over. It reminds us of our story, of where we have come from and of who we are. By reading and interpreting the word of God we are constantly reminded of the journey that faith involves. Whether it be through the eyes of Israel, or the disciples, or the Early Church we are told stories that remind us of our past. 

Stories hold a key role in reconciliation. Time and again I have been surprised by people’s stories. As people tell you their story they open up and connect to you. Stories connect people, they help people to begin to understand the journey and they turn acquaintances into friends. Dare I suggest that stories can even turn enemies into friends. At the heart of the ministry of Coventry Cathedral is a story, it is a story full of pain and loss, but it is also a story which united people. It united people around a common cause. It turned enemies into friends and it helped them to discern what their story was. 

At the heart of the Eucharist is the story of a God who loves us and wants to be reconciled to us. We should put this story at the heart of any reconciliation work we do, for without it we are simply speaking empty words. It is only through Christ that we can truly be reconciled to ourselves, to our neighbours and to God. 

Reconciled

It is in the liturgy of the sacrament that reconciliation truly begins to take shape. This liturgy usually begins with the peace, although there is option to include it elsewhere in the service, it acts as the bridge between the liturgy of the word and that of the sacrament. The peace is a glimpse of reconciliation within itself. Although announced by the priest, the priest is not the one who brings peace. In fact, we are all ministers of Christ’s peace. Just as we are all in need of it as well. It is this peace, sometimes given reluctantly, other times with hesitation, that is perfected within community. This peace will roll on, it will continue as we gather and talk after communion, it will continue as the priest begins to prepare the elements. But more than this, it is a gift from Christ which is perfected as we strive to become more Christ like in our day to day lives. 

Broken 

Once the elements have been taken and blessed, two of the most important aspects of the Eucharist, they are then broken. These words, see below, can be used as a priest fractures the host, which for me, signify the brokenness that unites us all:

We break this bread 

To share in the body of Christ

Though we are many, we are one body, 

Because we all share in one bread. 

Although this is not something that scholars have agreed upon, it has been a prominent idea since the second century. The idea of the broken bread reflecting the broken body of Christ on the cross is a powerful tool for reconciliation and peace. We, as reconciler’s, bring our brokenness to the table and offer it to God. Just as Christ offers us his brokenness. From this broken state wonderful things can come to light. From broken bread and wine outpoured can come abundant blessings and promises of hope. 

Sent 

The final part of the Eucharist is the sending out. This is a crucial part of the service as it reminds us that just as we have been drawn into the mystery of God’s divine love, so are we sent out as messengers of God’s divine love. The Deacon’s proclamation: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” is a strong command. It shapes who we should be as Christ’s followers. We may be pilgrims gathered around the Lord’s table, but we are pilgrims who are sent out with an urgent and important task. As those gathered together in the Chapel of Unity you are reminded of the practicalities of such a task. You are reminded as you exit the Cathedral and see the Old Cathedral ruins, you are reminded when you think of those words “Father, Forgive.” But, we are not sent out alone but as part of a new community. A new community shaped by Christ. We are sent out as part of the body of Christ, challenged to live in love and peace with all. 

Reconciliation and The Eucharist

At the heart of the Eucharist is the telling of the story of God’s love for creation. It is a story which reflects not just the nature of reconciliation but God’s heart to be reconciled to us.  It reminds us of the gift which God has already offered us and challenges us to shape our lives in response to that gift. 

In the Eucharist we are gathered; gently collected by God so that we can be prompted on a journey. We are reminded; we hear of God’s love for us and desire to be reconciled to us. We are reconciled; we are told of God’s love and reconciled to each other, made into a fragile community which is shaped by God. We are broken; we are reminded of God’s brokenness and see it in our broken lives. We are sent; we are challenged to “Go” to be reconcilers in the world, to tell people of God’s love and to bring them to the table at which reconciliation can truly begin. 

This is not meant to be a detailed explanation of the Eucharist, it never intended to create a detailed theology of reconciliation in light of the Eucharist. But, I hope it offers pause for thought. For those who are privileged to preside of the Eucharist, I hope it challenges you to rethink how you preside over this sacred meal and what message you are giving to the people gathered. For those whose faith is sustained by the Eucharist I hope it offers a moment of reflection. And, for those who do not know, or are not close to it, I hope this reflection prompts you to see the Eucharist as one of the key tenants for reconciling your relationship with God. 

Bibliography 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England

Castle, B, Reconciliation: The journey of a lifetime

Gordon-Taylor, B and Jones, S, Celebrating The Eucharist: A Practical Guide

Davidson, A and Milbank, C, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions 

Dix, G, The Shape of the Liturgy 

Schuegraf, O, The Cross of Nails: Joining in God’s Mission of Reconciliation

Reconciler’s Together #JourneyofHope

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.

(John 1:14-18)

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. 

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