Read II Corinthians 5:17-21
To forgive is one thing. To be reconciled, another.
At its simplest level, forgiveness is basically the decision not to seek vengeance. It means accepting that the person who hurt me will not be punished. “Go, I forgive you” means “You can leave in peace, I won’t pursue you, I won’t seek compensation for the wrong you have done me.”
Reconciliation is more complicated. Of course, reconciliation implies forgiveness. I can’t be reconciled to someone without forgiveness being offered and accepted. But reconciliation means more: it means establishing anew a relationship that was hurt, re-binding myself to someone who wronged me, in spite of that wrong.
I remember a couple where both spouses had hurt each other in a very serious way. Through the help of a professional counselor, they were able to forgive each other, but they were never reconciled. They were willing to let go of the offence, but not to rebuild their relationship. They left each other without bitterness. Still, they left each other.
A relationship is like a rubber band. It can be stretched quite thin by the stress of the wrongs we do to each other. If the wrong is not too severe, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. Like a rubber band reshapes itself, the relationship can be renewed, recreated. But if the wrong is too great, the relationship can be severed. Then, like a rubber band that has been sundered, nothing more can be done.
At least, outside of God, it seems that nothing more can be done. But in God, reconciliation is always offered. God does not want only to forgive us our sins, God wants to be reconciled with us. God desires more for us than a peaceful heart: God wants to dwell in our heart. God wants us to live in his love.
In the excerpt of the second letter to the Corinthians that we will read this Sunday, Paul uses the expression “reconciliation” no less than five times in two sentences. This passage reaches its climax in a pressing invitation that surges from Paul’s heart: “Let yourselves be reconciled to God.”
Lent is given to us as a privileged time of reconciliation. Not only does God offer us the forgiveness of our sins, God invites us to a new partnership, a new covenant. God offers us reconciliation. For with God, everything can start over. With God, all can be made new.