Forgiveness - Good Friday Message
April 3, 2015
In these times of so much violence, fear and anger, when we hear repeatedly in the news of the devastation wreaked by cycles of revenge that seem to be endless, it is our role – the Christian’s role – to remember Jesus’ death, to speak its word of forgiveness to the world, to live its lesson in our daily lives.
Jesus death also took place in a time and place of great violence, a time and place when government ruled by fear, when the only justice was the justice of the oppressor.
But what Jesus knew, what he grasped not just intellectually but in the very depth of his being, was that he was Beloved of God.
Human forgiveness is possible because, before all other acts of betrayal or anger or violence, we are loved by God. And it is only when we grasp how deeply we are loved by God that we can extend love toward those who have hurt us.
This is the great mystery of forgiveness, the theologian Henry Nouwen said. Forgiveness is made possible by the knowledge that human beings cannot offer us what only God can give. Once we have heard God’s voice calling us “Beloved,” once we have claimed that first, sacred unconditional love, we can see easily – with the eyes of a repentant heart – how we have demanded of people a love that only God can give.
You might recognize the name Kayla Mueller – the 26 year old aid worker from Arizona, who died in February after being held captive for months by the group calling itself the Islamic State. After her death her parents released a note she had sent to the family: “I remember Mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God,” she wrote. “I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator. By God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall.”
“Tenderly cradled in free fall.”
What Jesus knew, what Kayla knew, is that we are beloved of God long before and far beyond the ability of any human act to wound us. We are beloved by God long before and far beyond the ability of any person to accept or reject us. Nouwen says “Our true home is not the house we live in, but our sacred place in the unconditional love of the One who being is pure love.” Realizing this, there is no reason to cling to our need for revenge. It disappears like snow in the sun. Forgiveness becomes a spontaneous response.
Human forgiveness is possible because, before all other acts of betrayal or anger or violence, we are loved by God.
Human forgiveness is possible because, before all other acts of betrayal or anger or violence, we are forgiven by God. Indeed, it is only when we acknowledge our own sinfulness and need for God that we can truly forgive others.
From the ancient tradition of desert wisdom comes this story:
A brother in the monastic community of Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them. And today I am coming to judge the errors of another?” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.”
Mercy for others grows from the sorrowful knowledge of the depths of sin that lie in the human heart. Discovering that has a way of putting the faults of others in perspective.
Every Sunday, when we repeat the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will forgive our sins (our trespasses) as we have those who have sinned against us. The translations of that phrase in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, offers us a fresh hearing of something we say so often we may not even think about it:
- Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
- Lighten our load of secret debts as we relieve others of their need to repay.
- Forgive our hidden past, the secret shames, as we consistently forgive what others hide.
We are knotted up with those whom we have harmed, and who have harmed us. We are weighed down under the same load. We are hidden behind the same shadow. Forgiveness is a gift we give one another, an opportunity to let go of the mistakes that tie us in knots, that weigh us down, that keep us in hiding.
This is why forgiveness – when it is truly offered and received – feels so liberating, so freeing, so restorative. Forgiveness is a restorative event. It restores a relationship that has been displaced, broken, or destroyed through the ego-centered preoccupation that is sin. When forgiveness takes place, it bonds and restores us with God, and that bonding has a ripple effect that strengthens relationships with and among family and neighbors.
Forgiveness is the greatest step a human being can take. Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. Because the hard truth is that we all love poorly. We do not even know what we are doing when we hurt others.
We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour – unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak. That is the great work of
Closing Statement of Forgiveness and Blessing
When Jesus forgave, he never focused on the sinner or dwelt on the wickedness that inspired the sin. Rather, the gospel nearly explodes with the startling mystery that God forgives. Jesus was not preoccupied with the past, but announced a prodigal love for God’s creatures and looked forward to a future of forgiveness.
It is a message that only the needy can hear; we can turn to it and understand something of its beauty and profundity after confessing helplessness. In the moment of need and destitution, Jesus promises that the greatest of all gift, forgiving love, is ours.
So now in the face of the cross, I declare, to all who are truly penitent, these gracious words of God: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Go in peace, in the knowledge and hope of eternal life, which are ours through the promise of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.