November 9, 2020
One day this week between election day and the official announcement of the results, a friend of friends, born Dutch and living in England, with whom I am connected on social media posed the following question:
To my (rather disproportionate amount of) clergy friends in the US and elsewhere – what does a ministry of reconciliation look like post-election?
Without even thinking much about it, I responded:
It looks like the Sermon in the Mount.
Love your enemies.
Be salt and light.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this since. What does reconciliation look like in this post-election world? There has been a lot of talk about forgiveness and unity and coming together, a lot of relief that things turned out the way they did so we can get back to the way it was before.
But you see, for many, many people, the way it was before is not much different than the way it has been for the past four years. We should have learned a long time ago that a change at the top does not necessarily trickle down to the trenches.
Yes, words matter. Attitudes matter. The quality of public discourse matters. But JFK’s “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and Bush 41’s “thousand points of light” and Obama’s “Yes, we can,” soaring and inspiring as they are, did not change daily life for most of us.
Neither do the words that I so glibly threw out onto Facebook from the Sermon on the Mount.
Unless we do something with them.
Unless we go to where the blessed poor and mournful and suffering are and accompany them, soothe them, feed them, and use what power we have to make such need obsolete.
Unless we stop hiding our light under a bushel basket and let the Good News that fills our hearts spill into every part of lives, “showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it” as Madeleine L’Engle said.
Unless we can love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. This does not mean that we don’t hold people accountable or allow hateful words and actions to go unchecked. What it does mean is that we demonstrate that love, that agapé, that kind of love that compels us to lay down our lives for our friends, praying and working for the good of everyone. Because none of us can truly flourish unless we all flourish.
In these past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words of the Very Rev. Richard Howard, provost of Coventry Cathedral during the Blitz when the city and its cathedral were destroyed. (We’re coming up on the 80th anniversary of that on November 14-15.) In a Christmas address from the cathedral ruins barely one month later, he proclaimed that, when the war ended, the people of Coventry would reach out a hand of friendship to the German people, seeking to create “a kinder, more Christ-childlike world.” As you can imagine, it was not a very popular sentiment in 1940.
But you see, Provost Howard did not reach out that hand while the bombs were still falling, while the Germans were exterminating the Jewish population of Europe. Reconciliation is only possible when the wrongdoing ceases. It isn’t simply a matter of saying “I forgive you,” which is certainly in our power to do. Reconciliation, however, requires both parties to engage in a long and usually painful process. One hand can’t be reached out in peace while the other continues to cause harm. That isn’t reconciliation. That isn’t peace.
It is not very popular to say that we, too, need to reach out a hand in friendship in post-election America, either. Yet it must be said. I don’t expect those who have been most harmed, most abused – separated from their children, locked in cages, demonized, murdered by state actors, or any other atrocity – to reach out to anyone. It’s really up to those who can. Those of us who have failed in our efforts to confront the presence of evil and malice in our midst. Those of us with the means to make a difference. Those of us who have shirked our responsibility to be salt and light. But that salt and light must continue to draw people from the wrongs they have done and even continue to do if reconciliation is to be even remotely possible.
St. Paul wrote, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (1 Corinthians 5:17-19).
What does that look like right here and right now? I’m not entirely sure just yet. But I am sure that I follow in the steps of Jesus who gave his life, who permitted his life to be taken by the powers and principalities, who emptied himself to show us what love in action really is.
May God give all of us who claim to follow in that path the will, the courage, and the grace to do the same.