Repentance is a concept that isn’t very popular in contemporary society. You don’t hear about it in mainstream culture, at least not in a positive way. Where you might expect to hear about it, as in the pulpit, it is strangely absent. It is hard for many of us to imagine any universe in which repentance might be considered a gift, but this is exactly the way our ancestors and elders welcomed it—the gift of a new life.
Even people who desperately want a new life are likely to avoid thinking about repentance. The problem seems to be twofold: it is perceived to involve extreme effort at self-criticism and, after that, extreme effort at self-correction. All of this is imagined within the confines of one’s own individual strength. God doesn’t appear to be involved until later, offering rewards to those who change. For many people, schemes like these conflict with concepts of a God of love and, even if not, they seem humanly impossible, to the point of cruel expectation.
Ancient and biblical concepts of repentance are very different. Repentance is the grace-filled motion, within the human heart, of the original and primal impulse to seek life in God. It is met—like Ezekiel’s wheel within a wheel—with a corresponding motion of grace from God. It is the Spirit working in us to rejoin ourselves with God. If our life is a complete and miserable mess or if we are in a place of great external and internal comfort, repentance is the grace of God that moves us from where we are to the new life that God offers to all—the fulfillment of all that we were meant to be, the realization of all that we have hoped to be. It is not, by any means, a specifically religious impulse. It is life seeking life. Though it almost always offers challenge and some pain, it always promises the greatest of joys.
This new life is offered to Canada in the fulfillment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Reconciliation depends upon the grace-filled motion of repentance operating within our individual hearts and within the various communities and institutions that make up Canadian life. We should not see it as bitter medicine, but as the first step in a massive motion of grace aiming toward the fulfillment of what this land is meant and called to be.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.Back to Top
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.
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