“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”– Luke 6:37, from today’s daily office readings
Last night, a sudden spring storm rolled through the night, and all three of our dogs did not handle it well, so, like a good dogmom, I found myself up comforting three furballs who draped over me in various levels of unhappiness until it stopped. The flashes of lightning were beautiful to me, though, and I watched the brief light show with amazement and gratitude, and heard the first bird of the morning trill out its relief when the storm finally passed.
This also meant I took the opportunity to pray morning prayer exceedingly early for one who is a nightowl. The verse about forgiveness is the one that stayed with me after I had closed my computer and closed my eyes for a few moments. It stayed with me, because I know that forgiveness is something with which I often struggle mightily—especially forgiving myself.
I had been thinking about forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, since the Sunday before last, when our gospel text in the lectionary was John 21:21-19, the story about Jesus appearing to the disciples as they are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, handing out fishing advice and making them breakfast. As part of the conversation around the charcoal fire, the risen Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Jesus, and when Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus admonishes him to feed and care for Jesus’s sheep.
I imagined Peter seeing that charcoal fire burning on the shore and remembering the last time he had stood around one, denying Jesus three times, adding yet another betrayal of Jesus on a night of betrayal. I imagined Peter expecting condemnation and around that breakfast fire, yet instead being fed and brought toward healing. Three times Peter had denied Jesus—and three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and then commanding him to carry out his leadership of the nascent Church. Each question about love cancelled out a denial on the night of Jesus’s betrayal, and reminded Peter that he was forgiven for his momentary failure of nerve that led to those famous denials. Now all Peter had to do was to forgive himself, which was no small thing.
The verse from Luke about forgiveness in today’s daily office leads us to remember the grace of forgiveness on both the person wronged as well as the recipient. It hews closely to the statement in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness that goes even further: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” we pray, often sleepwalking through those words without really examining them.
Yet what a challenge to us to remember that forgiveness is a two-way street, and that it heals us when we are wronged as much as when we are the one in need of forgiveness. What a relief when we let go our the grudges we bear against those who have hurt us, whether they are sorry or not, when we release the Jacob Marley-like chains of resentment that we drape around our own necks, and even more so when we forgive ourselves for the failures that haunt us like Marley’s ghost. Once you lay that weight down, the relief cuts through the darkness like the lightning in that spring storm, and awakens us to new levels of gratitude and healing. The storms of betrayal and self-recrimination subside within us, and call us to breathe deeply the cool clean air of forgiveness.
Our Loving Light in heaven,
we are called to forgive others
as much as You forgive us.
Help us let go of anger and resentment
when we have been wronged,
and nurture understanding
in place of feeding the weeds of rage.
Help us to understand
that all are wounded and in need of healing,
Help us to lower our defenses
and not impugn the motives of those we love,
opening ourselves to the vulnerability and blessing of love.
Help us to judge only as harshly
as we ourselves wish to be judged,
and no more.
For You are our loving God,
and You forgive us repeatedly
when we fail You.
Teach us that in bearing grudges
we grip a weight that will sink us,
and when harboring anger
we risk loss in a sea of recrimination.
Let us embrace those who seek our pardon,
and repair mutual injury
with the balm of Love that never fails.
O Loving One, hear our prayers
and grant your benediction and grace
to those whose needs we now raise before You.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.