Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Father, Forgive Them...": A Meditation on Forgiveness

This past Good Friday, I was privileged to give one of the meditations on the seven last words of Christ. Anna has encouraged me to post my meditation here, and so I have. Rich Easter blessings to all! Rickey 
Father, Forgive…: First of the 7 Last Words of Christ
             Luke 23:34 (ESV): 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
On the one hand it’s no surprise that Jesus’s first words on the cross were of forgiveness. Forgiveness is why he came; he was fulfilling his mission. But it’s also important that we don’t take these words of his for granted. Instead, it is vital that we are mindful of them and that we meditate on them in an ongoing way—that we engage again and again how remarkable it is that he could be treated so unjustly, so brutally, and yet his first words on the cross were to ask his Father to forgive.
In meditating on these words of his and their significance, our first response should be for us to receive and appropriate for ourselves the forgiveness that Jesus prayed for and that he accomplished for us on the cross. From the perspective of eternity, our sins helped put him on that cross. He was dying for the sins of all. The forgiveness he longed for is a complete healing of the human condition in its alienation and separation from God. It is the bridging of the abyss between us and God caused by sin. The forgiveness achieved by Jesus on the cross makes it possible for us now to be united with God, to participate in God’s nature, as it says in I Peter. To have, as John 17 says, the Son and the Father live in us and us in them. It’s incredible, a glorious heritage, and his words inaugurate it. The resurrection fulfills it. And it is imperative that we make it our primary goal to seek to actualize God’s forgiveness, his love, his embrace in our lives.
We must recognize again and again that it is not our sin but God’s love that is paramount. Forgiveness is primarily about relationship. It is not primarily about having one’s account wiped clean or moving from the debit side of the ledger to the credit side. Instead forgiveness involves the removal of obstacles that lie in the way of intimate union with God and others. It is the invitation and the enablement to live in a new relationship with the one who forgives. So to be forgiven means that we can no longer live in the same way.
We have a second responsibility in response to these words of the Lord: we are to forgive others as he forgives. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to forgive like he would on the cross. The line we say is, forgive us as we also forgive others. So much in human life depends on forgiveness, and so much could be healed in our world if the forgiveness made possible by Jesus were more and more practiced in our lives. Forgiveness makes possible healing, reconciliation, and renewal, whether in friendships, families, churches, or nations.
Like Jesus on the cross then, we must pray for our enemies. He is our model and our example. If he could do it on the cross, surely we can do it in our circumstances. Our forgiveness of others is key to our spiritual growth. Some spiritual writers consider praying for our enemies as the main marker of deep and mature Christian spirituality.
It’s not easy, as we all know well. We are all wounded people, whether we appear so to others or not. Who wounds us? So often it’s those we love and those who love us. And we wound them. This is why long-term in-depth relationships cannot be sustained without forgiveness. To truly forgive others, to forgive from the heart is very difficult—it is precisely our hearts that have been wounded. In fact, it is impossible for us, but nothing impossible for God, and he is seeking to work in us and through us.
To pray is to be intimate before God and with God. To bring those who have frustrated us, hurt, or even betrayed us into our prayer time then is to be vulnerable yet again to these frustrations, hurts, and betrayals. But it is also to be cleansed, comforted, strengthened, and even healed in regard them. And more important, much more important, it is to become more and more like Jesus, to become more and more closely united with him. And for his life to be more and more fully expressed through us. We unite with him in accepting and seeking healing of the sinfulness of the world.
Paul says in Colossians 1 that our sufferings help fulfill the ministry of Jesus. In praying for our enemies, our hearts join with his in the work of redemption. To hear them again, his words were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In honoring these words of Jesus for forgiveness, in receiving them for ourselves, in practicing them toward others, we become a true community of the Spirit, and a true community of the Spirit is always a community of forgiveness. 

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