Forty days is a long time… long enough for God to wash the earth with the waters of the Deluge… long enough for a fasting Jesus to come face to face with the great work before him. Forty days certainly is a long time… but has it been long enough for us to get on with the serious business of Lent… long enough for us to repent… long enough for us to align our lives with God’s purpose for us? Let’s consider these questions in the context of this week’s gospel… the Passion… the culmination of Lent… the threshold of the Resurrection.
St. Mark’s account of the Passion is not as lengthy as that of St. Matthew. But it is sufficiently detailed to convey Christ’s complete sacrificial surrender in the face of betrayal, torture and execution. From all the great lessons found in this gospel… Christ’s faithfulness to the Father… his saving love… his humility, his courage…let’s focus on one single, powerful lesson: Forgiveness… the very first fruit of redemption… the object of our Lenten repentance.
Forgiveness is a cornerstone of our new covenant with God. It repairs the rupture of sin that invaded Eden. It tempers the Old Testament wrath that rained fire and brimstone. It moderates the ritual rectitude of Leviticus. But the forgiveness of Calvary is no theological abstraction. It is a reality written in the blood of Christ. Throughout his Passion Jesus shows us that to love is to forgive…and to forgive …and to forgive. That is how love works.
In Luke Jesus asks forgiveness for his tormentors: For they know not what they do. Then he forgives the penitent thief for a life-time of crime, saying: Today you will be with me in Paradise. Equally important is what Jesus does not say. Pilate is amazed at his silence in the face of obviously trumped-up charges. Mark records Christ’s silent submission right up to and onto the cross… no rebuttals, no recriminations, no threats of revenge.
In Mark only at the last minute does Jesus break his silence: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? At first glance this is a cry of despair. On further examination, it is a direct quote from David in Psalm 22, which precisely predicted the method of Christ’s execution… more than five hundred years before the Romans had introduced crucifixion into Israel. To the end, in obedience to the Father, Jesus shows us he is fulfilling the laws and the prophets. Then finally, from the weight of sin, as much as from the agony of crucifixion, he gives up his spirit.
Calvary marks a change in our relationship with God. He is no longer the distant, omnipotent umpire calling balls and strikes. He is the accessible, ever loving, ever forgiving Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier… the source of all love. But that does not mean that God has become the enabler in chief. There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving. God always forgives; he never condones. St. Augustine cautions us that: “No one is redeemed except through unmerited mercy, and no one is condemned except through merited judgment.” We can always rely on God’s mercy. We should never presume it as a license to sin.
In the Lord’s Prayer, only one petition is conditional: that our trespasses will be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. Surely, we all need forgiveness, so we all have a need to forgive. It is a simple and benign concept, until it is seriously challenged. And then it becomes a harsh reality. Overlooking a minor faux-pas is easy. But what about relationships that become contests …when words become weapons… when attack breeds counterattack …when lives are wasted and families destroyed over arguments that have long since lost their meaning? All that calls for some really serious forgiving.
The internet is replete with listings of family conflict counsellors. The libraries are stocked with volumes on reconciliation. Doubtless, they have merit. But the true path to healing relationships is the way of the cross…to forgive…and forgive…to repent and reconcile…to pray and to love. Then to forgive again… knowing that beyond the Calvary of our conflicts lies the joy of the Resurrection. Peace is always within our reach, through the door of forgiveness. Jesus has shown us the way.
For forty days we have walked the way of repentance. We have been taught the lesson of forgiveness. Now, from the cross, Jesus tells us: It is finished. We are saved. We are forgiven.
Let’s spend a lifetime saying: “Thank you, Jesus.” Let’s get on with celebrating the Resurrection by spreading his love around. That’s a happy, holy job that’s never finished.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
“005Crucifixión I” by Mauricio García Vega – Mauricio García Vega. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons