A Ministry of At-One-Ment

…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.

The Church is facing a challenge going forward as it seeks to define the nature of ministry in a Covid-endemic world. Of course, that challenge has been around a long time, at least for the last century and a half: How do we receive and enact the living Word in an age that is increasingly self-defined and inwardly focused. The experience of the past two years…lockdowns, political turmoil, social unrest, and governmental interventions…has accelerated the shift. The resultant trauma of this period points us toward real change and the possibility of growth, not just a return to what once was.

Psychologists are learning that one of the “victims” of this time of tumult has been the notion of community. We have learned that it is possible to find community in ways that are not dependent upon physical proximity. And while tuning in to worship online or sharing a Bible study may not be as complete an experience as an in-person gathering, it has nonetheless opened us up to the idea that it is possible to learn and grow and share even when we are separated by time and distance. For that reason alone, we have continued to put great emphasis on our online ministries and (with the help of some new technology) hybrid gatherings that combine in-person and online experiences pretty well. The recent presentation to the Congregation Council by Rev. Mitch Phillips from the synod staff and the last meeting of the Men’s Bible Study proved that this could happen effectively. These are good things.

But the recovery of community must also be hastened by a more complete understanding of the purpose of the church in the first place. St. Paul is a help to us in that regard. On a recent Sunday morning, the second reading from 2 Corinthians included the quote above. It is a powerful reminder of what we are called to be and to do…that our ministry is a participation in the God-given and God-driven task of reconciliation.

When William Tyndale began his English translation of the Bible in the mid-1520s, he struggled to find just the right word for the Latin reconciliato. Borrowing from a medieval English synonym, he fashioned a new word…at-one-ment…a word meant to capture the idea that God is about restoring the essential harmony of our relationships with God and with one another. This is God’s work in Christ Jesus, and consequently, it is our work, too.

Over the centuries since Tyndale, atonement has become more associated with a kind of quid pro quo satisfaction of debt. So, in its simplest terms, we say that Christ died for our sins. But at-one-ment is a more complex idea than paying off an angry God. It is a matter of reclaiming what God has always intended…our mutual abiding in loving relationship with God and with one another.

What a powerful way of looking to repair the damage done to community over the past two years (and longer)! We are created to be, intended to be, in love with and for each other and God. The methods don’t really matter. Online. In-person. A little bit of both. The goal does matter…that we find ourselves rejoicing with our neighbors at the astounding grace of a God who would go to the cross to bring us home. Sharing the Good News of that God is our ministry. †


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