Brother Roger of Taize founded his community in France to live out the unity which Christ prayed for. While others could find obstacles to unity, Brother Roger just got on and lived it out with those who were prepared to share the vision with him. Brother Francois, reflecting some time later, stated that for Brother Roger unity was a question of reconciliation and that’s something that every Christian can do. In so doing, we bring unity closer.
On Thursday my reflection concerned unity and reconciliation. The readings were 1 Kings 18:41-end, Psalm 65:8-end, Matthew 5:20-26.
I don’t know if you remember the tragic death of Brother Roger of Taize in August 2005 when he was aged 90. In front of a crowd of 2500 who were gathered for worship a Romanian woman slit his throat with a knife. Brother Roger died a few minutes later.
No one knows what motivated the woman to do this but Brother Francois of Taize reflected on the matter later and concluded that it was the type of person Brother Roger was which caused the problem. He was an innocent who took Jesus at his word, seeing clearly what was needed and pursuing it, refusing to admit defeat.
He formed the community at Taize in order to live out Jesus’ prayer ‘that they may be one’. Other people could look at the problem of unity and say there were too many obstacles but he pressed on nevertheless, simply because Christ wanted it to be so. We know here at the Cathedral that we have to work at unity. We worship and fellowship with people from all over the world, from different denominations, with different mother tongues. We read the same Bible and often interpret it differently. Yet we are trying to live generously in unity as best we can. Brother Roger saw Christian unity as a question of reconciliation. Each Christian can take steps to reconcile to others and in this way unity comes closer and closer to being realised.
I owe Brother Roger a debt as indirectly he helped me to follow Jesus’ command to reconcile with someone as given in today’s gospel reading. A short while after Brother Roger’s death there was a service held in Wakefield Cathedral in his memory. I had never been to Taize but I had found enrichment from the Taize songs which I had sung in the church choir. I decided to go to the service. When I went into the cathedral I walked along the nearest aisle towards the front and then walked along the length of the pew I wanted to sit in, until I reached the central aisle.
I was just about to sit down when I spotted a person sitting across the aisle with whom I had had difficulties in the past. Attempts to sort out the problem had not worked even though I tried the biblical way, one to one and then with the help of church elders. We had gone our separate ways and later the man moved house so I had not seen him for five years. I had a split second to decide what to do as he hadn’t yet seen me. I could go and sit somewhere else to escape notice, sit where I had intended or walk across the aisle and sit next to the man. I decided to go and sit next to him. I was unsure what kind of reception I would get but we had a wonderful conversation. It was as though there had never been any difficulties between us. I was amazed and very grateful to God for the opportunity to resolve a problem I had been aware of.
Jesus tells his followers that they are to be more righteous than the Pharisees. Anyone who knows anything about the Pharisees will know how scrupulous they were about keeping the Law. They even invented extra laws to help prevent them breaking the Law! One such law prohibited a tailor from carrying a pin on his clothing (as tailors are apt to do) as the Sabbath approached. If sunset came and he was still carrying the pin he would be guilty of working on the Sabbath day. How could Jesus realistically ask anyone to be more righteous than the Pharisees?
Jesus was looking for a different quality of righteousness. The Pharisees were very concerned to follow all the laws to the letter, but this was an outward practice. They were often accused by Jesus of doing things so that they would be noticed as holy men. Jesus was interested in the inner person, the attitudes. God looks at the heart and that’s where we have to be righteous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with performing good actions but the attitude which accompanies the actions has to be right also. Inside and outside have to be a seamless whole.
We are all selfish and self-centred in our natural state. We want what is pleasant for us, we want to be important and noticed, we are proud and don’t like to admit we are wrong. We can be tempted to do just enough to fulfil what we are asked to do rather than going beyond the letter of the law and acting out of love for others. Our attitudes can be changed by the Holy Spirit working in us to transform us. It won’t happen overnight as we are all works in progress but gradually we will change.
Changing is costly. Brother Francois said of Brother Roger: ‘For him, Christian unity was above all a question of reconciliation. And in the end he was right, for the rest of us ask ourselves too seldom if we are ready to pay the price for that unity. Does a reconciliation which does not touch us in our flesh still deserve the name?’ I certainly found that reconciling with the person in the cathedral was easier than I anticipated but I had to overcome my reluctance and obey God’s nudging to go and sit with him. A couple of years later God did the same over another relationship and I found that very costly indeed but the act of reconciliation actually freed me to move on from the situation I was in. I felt as though I didn’t have permission until I had sorted out that relationship.
If the cost is so high, you might wonder why we bother to try to do things as Jesus asked. It comes down to a relationship of trust. We trust that God wants the best for us. God is the one who provides for us, as the psalmist says, giving food and all that we need. He is one who can be relied on to keep his word, one we can place our confidence in. It was this that allowed Elijah to talk of the sound of rushing rain when the drought still held and there wasn’t a vestige of cloud in the sky.
Our response to such a loving God is to try to please him. We don’t do that in order to earn his love. He already loves us and he always will. John is his first letter says that ‘we love because he first loved us’. What he adds is that we can’t claim to love God while still hating our brother or sister, hence Jesus’ commandment to reconcile with one another.
A little later in the service we will have the collect. I’d like to quote some of it here to finish:
‘because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in the keeping of your commandments we may please you both in will and deed.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor