CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Forgiveness and Resurrection
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
- John 20:19-31
Forgiveness is powerful.
This sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? When given the choice whether to forgive a person or not, one quickly gets the feeling that to forgive would be to show weakness. We fear that it would put us in a “down” position relative to the offender. In the so-called "real world," the strong get even. Or, at the very least, they get some measure of retributive justice. Let’s face it, we prefer vengeance to the restorative justice that is at the heart of God’s mission.
But, in reality, our failure to forgive grants the offender ongoing power over us. Sure, feeling victimized and nursing resentment has a certain reward to it. But this is feeding our souls with empty calories that rob us of health and life. It is, in fact, a deadly venom to our souls. We mistake the withholding of forgiveness as exercising power over those who harmed us when, in reality, we are granting them rent-free living space in our heads and hearts, where they continue to injure and torment us.
Forgiveness is powerful. It gives us back our souls. It is the first step to becoming free of the harm we have suffered. When Jesus prayed on the cross “Father, forgive them,” he preserved his true self. His tormentors never had him because he forgave them. They could kill his body, and yet they could not destroy him. When Jesus forgave us, he maintained his integrity, his wholeness, his holiness.
In today’s Gospel reading, the Risen Lord twice appears to the bewildered and crestfallen disciples. Yes, he seeks and finds those who had slept through his anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, those who had deserted him when violent men showed up, those who had denied him when they were pegged as his people, and those who on the third day refused to believe Mary Magdalene and her friends, the apostles of the Resurrection. Standing in their midst, Jesus gives them his Peace. He does it twice in the evening of Easter Day and a third time on the second Sunday after Easter Day. Peace. Torment yourselves over your failures no longer. Peace be with you.
The core of the Good News is that in Christ God has reconciled the world to Godself. Not merely forgiven and let go of but restored in relationship. So, the Peace of Jesus is prelude to saying to them: You are still mine, we belong to each other, and, empowered by the Spirit, you have a job to do. Be agents of my forgiveness. Grow in community, become the Beloved Community that God has now made possible. Go and forgive; live in the power of the Resurrection.
Jesus shows us that forgiveness is proactive rather than reactive. He did not wait for his executioners to express or show remorse and regret. He did not wait for the disciples to pour out their Mea culpas. Waiting for that to happen is again another way that we continue to give the offender power over us. It hands to the offender all the cards, while we delude ourselves into believing we hold the ace of forgiveness up our sleeve. When our actions are contingent on the behavior of the offender, we are back in bondage. Proactive forgiveness, on the other hand, releases a power in us and in the world that cannot be abated.
The theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, writing about the death and resurrection of Jesus, tersely said, “Dead men forgive no sins.” Having chosen to keep his soul intact, death could not hold Jesus down in the tomb. The Risen Lord stood then and stands now and will stand forever because forgiveness is more powerful than hate, because love is more powerful than death.
Jesus gave us the power of his forgiveness. You and I now have the power to forgive ourselves and to forgive each other. Which is how we live in the hope of the Resurrection. No matter what deaths we may go through in this life, we stand risen by the power of the forgiving Christ. By the grace and mercy of God, Resurrection follows death as the true pattern of our lives. Nothing can ultimately harm us when we stand here and now in the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his Resurrection. We are free to live in joy, love, and peace, thus beginning to experience even now a foretaste of the life to come in God’s nearer presence.
Forgiveness is powerful. Who do you need to forgive today?
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
- BCP, p. 816
The Rev. Daniel Robayo is the missioner for Latino/Hispanic ministries in the Diocese of North Carolina.
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