“You can’t really talk about mission without talking about the End.”
This was a conclusion that a colleague and I came to after reflecting on Bible verses that hold these two images together. From expansive, cosmic hymns (Colossians 1:15-20 and Ephesians 1:3-14), the joyful anticipation of creation’s new birth (Romans 8:18-25), and the foretelling of unfettered communion with our Creator and the healing of all nations (Revelation 22:2), Scripture celebrates and eagerly anticipates God’s mission to restore and reconcile all things.
If we use these passages as a gauge to measure the missional work of the church, we will indeed find many stories to celebrate, just as we will find stories that have missed their mark. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s assemblage of more than 6,000 testimonies from residential school survivors is but one example of mission that went terribly wrong. As we now work to disentangle mission from colonial sentiment and a 500-year-old undertaking to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their lands, families, and spiritual and cultural inheritance, we must ask ourselves how our notions of mission got so “tangled” in the first place.
I suspect that we will find many knots once we start pulling at the strings. For we’ve learned that when mission allies with the ever-expansive forces of nationalism, greed and fear, its so-called promises of “peace” inevitably come at a terrible cost: first to those it oppresses, but also to those who believe in its promises.
I’ve heard it said that the first casualty of war is truth. So here is our truth: Our faith is grounded in the commandment to love, even if we have to take up a cross to accomplish it. Knowing that Jesus alone is faithful to love, and also knowing that we have not only failed to love but are likely to fail again, how do we move forward?
Perhaps when we think about mission, particularly in light of our new emphasis on the mission of the regional church, we should take some time to consider the End and its underlying purpose. Is it to bring about the destruction of all things or the restoration of all things? If we believe in the latter, then our mission must embrace love over fear; and righteousness, justice and compassion over intolerance and hatred. We must also seek the forgiveness of others and pursue paths to reconciliation while trusting in God’s grace and mission for peace.
As we anticipate Christ’s coming this Advent, let’s reflect on the Apostle Paul’s words: “I don’t think there is any comparison between the present hard times and coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens . . . .” (Romans 8:18-21, The Message Bible).
Dorothy Fontaine is the director of mission for Mennonite Church Manitoba.