The Gospel of Reconciliation, Part 2

On display in St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin hangs an ancient door with a rough hewn, rectangular opening hacked out in the center to commemorate a significant event.

In 1492, two prominent Irish families, the Ormands and Kildares were in the midst of a bitter feud. Besieged by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, Sir James Butler, Earl of Ormand, and his followers took refuge in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s cathedral, bolting themselves in.

As the siege wore on, Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare came to the amazing conclusion that the feuding was foolish. Here were two families, worshiping the same God, in the same church, living in the same country, trying to kill each other. So he called out to Sir James and, as the inscription in St. Patrick’s says today, “undertoake on his honour that he should receive no villanie.” 

Afraid, as the inscription reads, of “some further treachery,” Ormond did not respond. So Kildare seized his spear, cut a hole in the door, and thrust his hand through. It was grasped by another hand inside the chapter house. The door was opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud. From Kildare’s noble gesture came the expression, “chancing one’s arm.” 

The work of reconciliation is the vulnerable work by a vulnerable God who calls us to be a vulnerable people. The arm that was grasped in friendship could just have easily been severed. Many arms are severed. Perhaps more arms are cut off in hostility than grasped in friendship.

In this dangerous and radical work of reconciliation, the real Easter Chicken sometimes gets served up for dinner and eaten. To be an Easter people is to be a vulnerable people as we participate with God in imploring the world to be reconciled to God. And to be reconciled to God is to be reconciled to everyone else and everything else.

How different is the gospel of reconciliation from a gospel of Manifest Destiny? How different is the gospel of reconciliation from a gospel of American or religious exceptionalism? How different is the gospel of redeeming evil through forgiveness and love from a gospel of conquering evil through violence? How different is the gospel of chancing one’s arm from a gospel of drone strikes. I’m afraid the Easter chicken has become just one more chicken.

What we need is a whole new way of thinking, a new world mentality. Paul tells us that the new creation has come. If we are to live and practice the gospel of reconciliation, then we must adopt a new creation mindset.

Paul says in 5:16, “we regard no one from a human point of view.” What is he talking about? In 5:14 he says, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” Christ is regarded by Paul as the archetypal human being who gathers to himself all other human beings. As the representative human being all humanity died with him, which means that all humanity has been gathered up “in Christ.”

Paul says of Christ, “even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way” (5:16b). He is now the cosmic Christ, the symbol of the new creation who gathers up all humankind into himself.

In theological language Paul is saying that because we are all “in Christ,” because a new humanity has been constituted through the crucified, risen Christ, the cosmic Lord, we are one people, one humanity, one family, one body, one world. Old boundaries, categories, and barriers are gone, all things have become new. We can no longer divide, separate, segregate, label, and exclude anyone. We are one people and one world.

So we who are disciples of Jesus are charged with the task of being ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to be peacemakers, to extend our arms in vulnerable acts of forgiveness, to implore our world to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to all creation.


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