In his 2014 Lenten study, The Crucified Life: Seven Words from the Cross, the Reverend Charlie Holt identifies the first word of the seven as “Forgiveness.” It seemed to me an important word to discuss – a lesson from Jesus Christ for you and me and for all time. Forgiveness can be a difficult thing for us to do, and I’ll provide an example later.
I’ve also heard Charlie Holt preach on this point from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). He said this prayer is very dangerous because if we are unwilling to forgive others, then we are inviting condemnation when we pray the next clause. Point well taken. God, we ask your forgiveness just as we forgive those who have wronged us. It is a very personal plea.
On the Cross, Luke records that Jesus asked God to forgive those who persecuted and mocked him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Imagine a condemned and suffering victim asking for forgiveness for his tormentors — a truly selfless moment. This prayer reaches far beyond the moment to all of us. Jesus is the perfect offering for our sins and those of all mankind. His forgiveness extends to all of us who confess him as Lord and Savior.
Another important point to emphasize, the soldiers guarding his execution mocked Jesus saying: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37). Even the criminal being executed on Jesus’ right issued the same challenge. The people cried out: “He saved others, let him save himself” (Luke 23:35). Yet Jesus gave himself up as a sacrifice for you and me. He was on a mission and no amount of agony or suffering could persuade him otherwise.
Something very special happens when the condemned think of others and the glory of God with their last conscious thought. History records that at his execution when the fire began to consume them, Hugh Latimer, the leader of the Oxford martyrs, proclaimed to Nicholas Ridley, his fellow prisoner, “We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s Grace, … as I trust shall never be put out.” Selfless!
I read an article from John Nolte at Breitbart making a case to for all of us Vietnam Veterans to forgive Jane Fonda. In August 1972, a photograph of Jane appeared on the front page of the Stars and Stripes (the newspaper of the Armed Forces) showing her sitting in the gunner’s seat of a 57mm anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi – a weapon used against US soldiers and their allies. The day prior, I had flown within range of that gun. My first thought was she was trying to kill me. I did not feel charitable toward her at all … and frankly, never have.
Years later, she publicly confessed that she had done a thoughtless and stupid thing. She asked the forgiveness of Vietnam veterans like me. I have been a long time in coming around, and I am not alone. Nolte suggests that vets like me need to let this go. He is right. While I may not forget this indiscretion for as long as I live, I do need to forgive her and move on. Otherwise, it is a weight on my soul. Forgiveness has a restorative quality like a weight removed from around our shoulders.
I worked for a Texan many years ago who said, “I can forgive, but I won’t forget.” While I have been criticized for that reaction, I understand and can illustrate the difference. Let’s say I loan you a hundred bucks, and you never pay me back. In the classic sense, I need to ‘forgive’ the loan and simply write it off. But, when you ask me for a second loan, I might be reluctant to ‘throw good money after bad,’ in light of our previous history. I don’t forget what has happened in the past, and it informs me of what the future might hold, but the original loan that caused all the trouble is forgiven. Case closed.
Forgiveness is essential and foundational in our Lenten preparation for Easter. Lent also marks a time for repentance. We are sinful people. As Thomas Cranmer wrote five centuries ago, we live in a “world of sin and the devil.” Our objective is to look beyond earthly things and set our aspirations toward heaven and life everlasting in the company of the saints. In the on-going conflict between heaven and earth, heaven remains the goal and forgiveness helps make the way towards that goal. It is truly restorative. Amen.
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March 20, 2023
Thank you so much! God Bless Always! Suzy