Ten-year-old Joshua had the opportunity to hear John Lewis, a congressman from Georgia, speak of his work and struggles encountered during the Civil Rights era, while at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Atlanta.
When John was taking questions Joshua asked him if he had been afraid.
John came down from the pulpit, called the young boy to the center of the sanctuary, bent down and showed him the scars on the top of his bald head.
He told of the places where the battering had taken place and then answered Joshua, “No, I was not afraid.”
We often hear the term reconciliation and use the passage in Ephesians 2:15-16 to reference God’s act of reconciliation:
He has abolished the law with its commandments that he might create in himself one new humanity … thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross.
It is God who does the reconciling. But this does not take us humans off the hook. While many of us who continue in the struggle for God’s justice might have answered differently, one who is committed to the work of creating a just world for God’s people knows that the call for justice and reconciliation sometimes comes with scars.
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, Jesus has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death” (1:21 paraphrased).
Often when we think of reconciliation we think in terms of coming together, agreeing on a particular point, forgiving and moving on.
Reconciliation is more than that.
Reconciliation occurs through death of self and, as Jesus and John Lewis experienced, there may be scars.
Something must die in order to create something new, to let grow something more constructive, more beautiful.
Yes, the work of reconciliation is God’s work.
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to be reconciled, to God and to one another. Jesus has the ultimate sacred scars.
It was Jesus’ blood that destroyed the barriers; his blood was shed to create peace and unity — reconciliation.
Yet we too have a part to play. The hand of God’s grace is in reconciliation calling us to sacrifice. As written in the words of the prayer of W.E.B. DuBois:
(G)ive us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done Mighty causes are calling us — the freeing of women, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty — all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death.
Through God’s grace, we have a part to play. Knowing that the Spirit of God dwells within us, and because God calls us to help create a “just” world for young people like Joshua, we are ALL called to the ministry of reconciliation.
The work of reconciliation and the grace of God are not just for the benefit of the present time, rather their benefits are to extend into the future.
The work continues for the benefit of Joshua. And the work that Jesus and John Lewis began will continue with this young child.
Beverly Wallace is an adjunct professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She formerly was an assistant to the bishop for the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA and is the co-author of the book, African American Grief.