The Bridge-Building Love of God
"Reconciliation is an act of grace that extends beyond the marital and blood bonds of family," writes author Lisha Epperson for our Reconciliation at Work theme. "But agape love has to be part of it. I forget that when the word 'racial' precedes it."
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Eph. 2:14-18)
When I was a little girl, spanking was considered a parents’ biblical responsibility. I don't remember the occasional leg taps and pops on my bottom, but I remember my mother coming into my room afterwards. When my tears had fallen and dried, she'd enter my room with an apology. Her soft words ("Mommy’s sorry") bridged our differences to make everything right.
Thus began our version of peace talks. She'd try to help me understand concepts like choice and consequence. I’d share my side of the story. We’d seal our love with a hug. This was reconciliation within the context of family. There were futures on the line, futures being shaped in her midst.
As I parent my own children, I have begun to understand her dream of reconciliation. However, the word has gotten under my skin lately—particularly when used as a term to describe the hope for relationship between white and black Americans.
Reconciliation is rooted in forgiveness; it's something I learned first at home. But unlike my family memories, which are interwoven with agape love, connecting the word reconciliation to race just doesn't make sense.
What Is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations, so the request to bring together people who were never in friendly relationship feels inauthentic. It leaves me questioning the demand placed on a people to make nice with their oppressors.
Only in viewing reconciliation from a standpoint of something I can relate to—the glorious civil war of family—can I find reasons to keep coming back to the table. Jesus is present in the middle of every table, and the love he lives through family relationships gives me hope for humanity.
Reconciliation is an act of grace that extends beyond the marital and blood bonds of family. It's the opening of a door, the great “Come ye, all who are sinners,” because that's what Jesus did. But agape love has to be part of it. I forget that when the word “racial” precedes it.
Jesus had to believe in reconciliation beyond the cross. In a whisper, He gave it all for love, for the people he loved. This was the great communal love promised in the African word Ubuntu ("I am what I am because of who we all are”; ”I am because we are.”)
The First Step
Jesus asks that we accept the reconciliation offered on the cross as a first step. It is an opportunity to experience a reconciliation that broke barriers, crept past borders, and brought together Gentile and Jew. Jesus believed in a reconciliation fueled by grace and motivated by a belief in the future, because of love—truth-breathed, justice-birthing, agape love.
Can we press forward to live reconciliation in spite of our complicated history? Can we release ourselves from the burden of remembering? Can we learn to live the weight of a word like repentance—and mean it? I think so, but we’ll have to step out of our feelings to experience that kind of redemption. Still, I’m inspired by initiatives like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission instituted in South Africa in 1995. It got people talking.
Reconciliation takes us back to grace … and grace to reconciliation. We have to follow grace to see the light—the unexplainable, unimaginable light—of the gospel.
In unforgiveness, we are all diminished. Each of us, part of this great whole, feels the separation and longs for reconciliation. Each of us (the hands and feet of Jesus, the members of his body) relies completely on the other. What are hands without a heart urging them to give, eyes without the light of a heart to provide vision?
If we could quicken our hearts to seek the bridge-building love of God, reconciliation would be done, in an instant: his kingdom come.
Until then, let's keep coming to the table. Let's keep talking.