Forgiveness SundayPosted: February 25, 2017
When the Church comes to Forgiveness Sunday, she is at the very threshold of Lent. Lent begins the next day, and we then walk in its themes, hymns, and preparations for the coming glorious day of Pascha. During the weeks of Lent, we are not to be grumbling about its disciplines. Even more, we are not to be gloomy and downcast. No, we are to engage Lent with a joyful, thankful energy. Why? Because we are to engage these weeks working with the Holy Spirit that we might be revived spiritually.
I want to examine the word revival. In some Protestant traditions the term brings up visions of tent meetings, preaching, and an emotional form of repentance. I know a few Protestants who pray for such a revival — they are fundamentalists and Pentecostals. Now, I agree that revival is a good thing, but I want no part of the noise, emotion, and show of such a spectacle. Lent is for revival, but it is about a revival that is deep, profound, and quiet. Yet, it is a revival both highly personal and also very communal, and should be uplifting for all, especially when quiet, true tears of repentance fall from our eyes.
We move through Lent to be revived – that the life of God is worked more fully into our lives.
The Gospel reading for Forgiveness Sunday comes from Matthew 6: 14 — 21. Portions of this pericope are quoted below to highlight the points I desire to cover in this posting.
For, if you forgive men their trespasses, your Father in Heaven will also forgive your trespasses. But, if you do not forgive the trespasses of men, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…Whenever you might fast, do not be as the gloomy hypocrites…Do not store up treasures upon the earth…But, store up treasure in heaven…
The three subjects are forgiveness, fasting, and storing up treasure in heaven. And all three subjects are part of Lent’s reviving purpose.
For most Christians observing Lent, the primary focus (unfortunately) is dietary fasting. Orthodox Christians fast from meat, eggs, and diary products. This dietary fasting is only a part of Lent, and if the dietary fast is all that happens during Lent, then Lent is wasted, and we become like the gloomy hypocrites.
In addition to the dietary disciplines, I propose a Lent of fasting from anger, and the conjuring up painful memories from the past which only fester in our minds and spirits. Stating this as a positive, the fasting of Lent is to be forgiving others the wrongs done to us by them. Our Lord’s words from Matthew 6: 14 — 15 are quite clear and to the point: We must forgive our fellow human beings. If we do not do so — we will not be forgiven by God the Father! Any questions?
However, I acknowledge that forgiveness can be difficult — very difficult — and in all cases forgiveness is a work of God. The greater the wrong, the greater the process and act of forgiveness. Further, forgiveness is always being challenged by our memory of the event and the person/people involved in the hurtful event. Our minds are constantly active, and memories of the past often come to the surface of our consciousness. These memories are like bubbles that arise from decaying vegetable matter found at the bottom of a pond. Now, we can allow the bubble to remain in our consciousness, or we can pop the bubble by saying a prayer of blessing and forgiveness for those who are actors in that memory. Whenever the bubble arises, destroy it with such prayer. By doing so, we are both fasting and storing up treasure in heaven. To augment such spiritual actions, I bring in the subject of thanksgiving.
The fasting of forgiveness, and the storing of treasure that comes with this practice, can be miraculously strengthened by the Holy Spirit when we give thanks for the experience. When I say this to people I am given a variety of looks — usually not of acceptance, but of objection. St. Paul writes, “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thes 5: 16 — 18). St. Paul means all things, not just pleasant things, but all things. He means give thanks for the unpleasant things, the challenging things, and the hurtful things that life in this world system hurls at us. Let me make this clear, the Apostle is not saying give thanks for evil. But, we can give thanks to God for the experience which we have survived. Because by giving thanks for the experience it is then able to be redeemed and transformed. Evil is destroyed, and good takes its place. By this eucharistic attitude, we give it to God for his purposes, and his purpose is our salvation — to become complete and whole as he is complete and whole. By giving thanks, we are transformed. By this Eucharist, we can now move through the process of forgiveness since we can now move in God’s grace for healing, transforming, and life-giving power.
This is hard — extremely hard, but it is worse to not be forgiven by God our Father. Such forgiveness can only come by the work of God in our lives, and it cannot be neglected or rejected. We can not insist on our way, but our Lord’s ways. Even as he was dying an unjust death on the Cross he forgave, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do!”
Thus, let this Lent (and every Lent) be for the fast of forgiving that we may store up treasure in heaven.