Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Morning of Prayer Friday, August 1, 2003

August 1, 2003
Frank T. Griswold

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself or again, from the letter to the Colossians, “…through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or heaven through the blood of his cross.”  In other words, reconciliation is a fact, an act of God, something that has already occurred. “How blessed is this night, “sings the Deacon in the course of the Great Vigil of Easter, “when earth and heaven are joined and all humanity is reconciled to God.”  Reconciliation is, therefore, God’s project, God’s mission accomplished on the cross and sealed and unleashed upon the world in the resurrection.

And so it is that we pray, “Almighty and Everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: grant that all who are reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.”  What we profess by our faith and are called to show forth in our lives is that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.”

We, therefore, begin our morning of prayerful reflection by acknowledging that God’s mission and work of reconciliation, which is the mission of the church and therefore our mission – inasmuch as God has given us the ministry of reconciliation – is not first of all about doing something, but receiving something: receiving the gift of God’s reconciling love made known to us in Christ and “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  Baptism and the Eucharist, the ground and mainstay of the sacramental life of the Church, are actions of the risen Christ whereby we are drawn out of ourselves and beyond ourselves into the forcefield of reconciliation reality which is nothing less than a new way of seeing and being – so radical and so contrary to how we have been shaped and formed and taught to perceive – that it can only be called a new creation.  Reconciliation, therefore, has a profoundly personal dimension.  How ready am I to receive that gift?  How has the Spirit of Christ disarmed me and sought to crack my heart open through the fierce gentleness of a love that will not let me go?

In order to receive the gift of God’s reconciling and recreating love we must repent.  And to repent, observes Archbishop William Temple, means adopting God’s point of view in place of our own – seeing as God sees and extending to ourselves, and to one another the mercy and compassion with which God in Christ reaches out and embraces us.

This brings me to prayer, the focus of this morning.  Prayer, as a wise teacher of prayer once said, is an openness to love on every level of our being: prayer is about receiving, about being permeable to the outrageousness of God’s delight and affection which ignores all the boundaries and qualifications we set for ourselves and for others out of our need to be reasonable and logical and right.  “Consider the work of God,” declares the author of Ecclesiastes, “who can make straight what God has made crooked.”  It is often through paradox and contradiction – crookedness – and finding ourselves in places we would never have imagined, that the divine compassion breaks into our lives and obliges us to relinquish some seemingly noble self-construction and humbly accept the truth of who we are, not as we would like to be known, but as God knows us and loves us.

Prayer, as a contemporary Latin American theologian observers, is dangerous because it overturns our idols: the idols of our own righteousness and our idols of the perfect church uncompromising in its justice and holiness.  “I have no righteousness of my own” declares Paul in the Letter to the Philippians, neither do we, neither does the church part from its prayerful availability to the Spirit of Truth who is constantly drawing us, personally and as a community, into the fathomless depths of Christ who is the way, the truth and the life “through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself.”

Reconciliation is therefore the fruit of repentance, and repentance, at its heart, is our willingness to give root room to the profligate and indiscriminate force of God’s love.  St. John of the Cross describes the encounter with the divine agape in terms of finding ourselves on strange and unfamiliar islands where everything is new and plays havoc with our previous experience and expectations.  The old patterns no longer work – again we are confronted by new creation and the falling away of the old: what we have known as safe and predictable.  Reconciliation can be, therefore, quite a terrifying experience in which the stability and certitude we have known give way to a kind of unknowing which then becomes the narrow door through which we are called to pass into an enlarged field of God’s truth.  “I have many more things to say to you,” says Jesus to his disciples in the Gospel of John, “but you cannot bear them now.”  God does not send us more truth than we can bear.  And therefore conflict within the life of the Church always carries within itself the possibility for some enlargement and deepening of the truth as in Jesus.  Without conflict, reconciliation would be little more than an abstraction.  Conflict forces us to meet one another in that field that lies beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, the field of God’s love, and there to discover ways that defy our logic and degrees of liking or disliking, that we are one, bound together in the bundle of life, marked as Christ’s own and therefore brothers and sisters forever. 

Multiple realities and divergent readings of scripture will always be with us because paradox and contradiction are part of the mystery of creation.  Reconciliation is not so much about solving things, as it is about placing them within the forcefield of God’s love where, beyond our capacities to manipulate or fix them, they are ordered by the divine imagination into patterns of relationship and mutuality that pass our understanding.

It is only through love and patient endurance on all sides that we can come to that place, that field, God’s field of boundless compassion where all things are drawn together and ordered in webs of relationship and communion that reflect the inner life of the Holy Trinity. 

Such is the nature of reconciliation achieved by God in Christ that we are called to receive as gift, give room to in our hearts, and live out in our lives in ministry to the world.  “All this from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

It is through our ongoing ministry of reconciliation – weaving into the life of the world and its social, political and economic structures the solid and unwavering truth of what God has already accomplished in Christ – that God’s deep longing for the wellbeing and full flourishing of all things is revealed, and communion, the fundamental law of creation because it is the very life of God, is restored.

Receive, repent, reconcile, restore: God’s project, God’s mission is the ministry we have been called to share as limbs and members of Christ risen today, for the sake of the world and all its people God loves so very, very deeply. 

Let us then in this morning of prayer open our hearts to the liberating, healing, transforming power of God’s reconciling love personally and as a community of faith called to embody the drawing together of all things that Jesus achieved on the cross.  Let us at the same time set our sights beyond ourselves and look to the world around us where thousands of children die daily of starvation while we search for the perfect diet.  Reconciliation is global in scope, as last night’s forum on global reconciliation and much of the work of this convention make plain.

With all this in mind, a number of helps have been provided to assist you in your prayerful reflection.  They are listed in the program – some more active, some more passive.  You might want first of all to sit quietly and ponder the words on the four banners: Receive, Repent, Reconcile, Restore.  Where do they find a home in you?  Challenge you?  Convict you?  Does a word in today’s Scripture speak to you?  For example, do Jesus’ words in the gospel about leaving your gift before the altar and first being reconciled to your brother and sister invite you to reach out to someone here whose views or very being may appear to you as threatening and dangerously other?  Am I perhaps in need of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation and healing?  If so, there are persons in this space who will provide that ministry.  Whatever you choose to do or not to do, may the reconciling love of God in Christ encounter us in the course of these next hours and draw us all more deeply into the ministry of reconciliation we have been given personally, as a community of faith, and globally for the sake of the world.