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Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christian faith

Published 9:35am Friday, May 3, 2013

By the Rev. Andrea Myers
Grace Lutheran Church

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Whether you say sins, or debts, or trespasses, to pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer is to recognize a fundamental truth about our lives: We mess up. We hurt one another, sometimes intentionally. When someone says the wrong thing, or does the wrong thing, the remedy is to forgive one another. It’s how we repair ourselves and our relationships. Usually it goes like this: “I’m sorry I hurt you,” we say, hoping to hear the response, “It’s OK,” or “I accept your apology,” or, even, “I forgive you.”

Giving or receiving forgiveness won’t wipe the past clean. It won’t erase the memory of what has transpired between us, or the scars that remain. It won’t eliminate the very real consequences of our actions. Yet, forgiveness offers something terribly important: a chance to let go of that past and its claim on us. We let go of our desire to hurt back, to seek revenge. We let go of our right to resurrect those past wrongs like some kind of weapon. When we forgive, or are forgiven, we say, “Today is a new day. The past is behind me. I will start again from here.”

Simply put, forgiveness is a powerful force for healing in our lives and our relationships. And yet, at the same time, it sometimes feels much more complicated than that.

Almost from the moment of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, I’ve heard challenging and provocative questions asked about forgiveness. Aren’t some things unforgivable? Who has the right to forgive? Isn’t it offensive to speak of forgiveness, if you weren’t one of those allegedly injured by the Tsarnaev brothers? Does forgiveness mean we can’t demand justice? Does talking about forgiveness diminish the real and difficult suffering of the victims and their families? And really, isn’t it too soon?

Perhaps it does feel too soon. Yet, those who seek to follow Jesus cannot ignore these questions altogether. Forgiveness is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. It rests at the heart of Jesus’ life and teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Instead of seeking eye-for-an-eye revenge, he urges us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). He admonishes us not to judge one another, saying, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). Even from the cross, he prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified him.

God’s forgiveness for us and our sins through Jesus Christ is the heart of the gospel. Forgiveness is how God heals us. In turn, when we reach out to others in a spirit of love and forgiveness we show our gratitude for that gift. In this way, we become part of God’s healing embrace of the whole world.

It’s not easy, nor is it simple. But whether it’s Boston, a fight with a friend, or a rift with a family member, learning to forgive one another is essential. When we aren’t sure how, Jesus names prayer as the simple place to start. Let us pray for those who have hurt us, and pray that we will be able to let go of that hurt, so that we might begin to be healed.