This post functions in a few ways. It is partly a clarification for a few conversation partners at school. It is also a synthesizing work on the way towards a post on pacifism that I have long promised in light of the previous language work. Without further delay:
We begin our existence with break or rupture. With death. And throughout life relationships of all kinds die: between communities, within communities, or strictly between two people. At one time the relationship is there in a positive way, and in the next following second, it is gone, it is sick or broken or dead. This death is not merely the virtue of not being properly alive, but has taken on its own identity as broken — judged in relationship to how life should be, but toxic in its being.
And yet, the Christian life seeks to live contrary to this. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and the flourishing of life is not only the telos of humanity because of divine interruption, but the future living itself today from the same divine work and the promises therein.
Nevertheless, there exists a gap between life and death. The Christian answer, for the action between the act of death and the act of new life, is the Christological movement into love by way of a sacramental life that remembers Jesus in terms of anamnesis. God looked into the fullness of death and did not choose death. Love was the method — the way of being — instead. Through our active and participatory remembrance, God moves us into life by his love and her grace. In a blink, relationships can now in their time (in their own blink) be restored.
As such, the sacramental life — including the in-breaking of the rule of God — looks death in its face. It refuses to trivialize death. And yet, the rule of God says that in present, the repercussions from the past do not hold sway. Indeed, the toxicity of death is arrested by love in the act of reconciliation. This is justice.
However, the forgiveness of today is not exactly retrogressive. While death is stopped, and its eternal sting is indeed taken away in the christological act of redemption, we do not work history backwards. The old covenant of Israel was not dissolved backwards, nor the promises of God renounced to the troublesome humanity; but rather, the curtain between the Holy of Holies and the people was ripped from top to bottom at Jesus’ death — the Christological love in death that looked Death in the face opened the present and future to the continuation of God’s work and plan.
History, and the sufferings within history, leave wounds that linger as scars. We long for the full healing, and at times, we do receive it, but often today, the death in the past still exists. The wounds from the spear and nails were left in the Lamb who will be recognized as the “Lamb who was slain.” Nazi death camps, divorce, parental abandonment, murder, still exist as scars even after the reconciliation between people. But the hope we have is that the past does not have to rule the present, nor does the past have to command the future. Reconciliation today informed by the future eschaton makes the past the past as it confronts the pain and conditions of the past in the present. Rather than simply perpetuating death, love moves us into the freedom to love.
The problems of the past, however, are not left to simply be ignored. But the problems and death of the past is not to be left to memorials, like we do with war memorials. Instead, the past is to be remembered to know who we are and to make sure that we have reconciled today what was in the past that still lives in the present. This is justice formed from the memory of a just God who took pain and healing seriously. This justice is working towards the righting relationships, towards reconciliation.
But how do we live in love towards reconciliation? The death of the past living in the present conflicts with those of us Christologically formed. The answer is yet again Christological, because it is incarnational: a loving solidarity against the perpetuated evils. We are immediately in conflict with the sting of death as it continues today.
After true reconciliation life is able to flourish, relationships are established and strengthened, because swords have become plowshares. This is peace. We see glimpses of it today (and indeed participate in it one hopes) informed by eschatological memory and the small reconciliations that do happen. But while death is rejected in favor of love and reconciliation, death still exists. For now, formed by memory and urged on by hope, we work in love to participate in what divine reconciliation we can.