Becoming A Forgiving People | James Stevenson
The Death of Jesus
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Jesus brings a message of forgiveness. Yet the inherited pattern of Church is rather that of keeping to the ‘rules’ or being excluded: conform to the expected pattern of behaviour or else you would be made to feel unwelcome.
At B&A through our Little Churches and a culture of invitation and welcome, we have got closer to one another – now we need to deal with living with one another’s mistakes. Niceness has worked so far but we need to move to forgiveness as our pattern.
Jesus’ words ‘It is finished’ need to be heard and understood.
What does he mean by ‘it’? Jesus means the power of sin – a heart attitude whereby we turn in on ourselves, failing to give the right place to God and others. This might be expressed for example in workaholicism, pornography or jealousy. Whatever shape it has, it is hard-wired into every single person, and its consequence is death.
It also exists collectively, although our society likes to play down or even celebrate sin. We can see the momentum structural sin gathers: sex sells and becomes a major area of misconduct; money equals power and leads to injustice. Each society majors on its own most prevalent or accepted sin.
There is also a spiritual aspect to sin. In the baptism liturgy, going back 1500 years, a new Christian promises to fight against ‘sin, the world and the devil’.
Such is the power of sin, but Jesus said it is ‘finished’ because his work on the Cross broke that power once and for all. Although the wages of sin are death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Jesus died our death and took our punishment in what is called ‘The Great Exchange’. So now, when I feel tempted and pulled back into the old patterns, I can face them in the power of Christ and behave in a way that does not conform to society’s structural evil.
Jesus said it ‘is’ finished. This is a positive act of God’s forgiveness, but one that each person must choose to receive. Have you received that forgiveness, once and for all for everything that you felt ashamed of? Or do you feel there are places in your past or your present life that are simply too bad to ask forgiveness for? There is no way that we can put limits on his forgiveness so think again! Knowing you are forgiven means no longer living with shame and darkness in the background. It means having the power to live differently, just as the baptism promise says. And until one receives Jesus’ forgiveness, one finds it hard to forgive others.
It is so important for the Church to be filled with people knowing they are forgiven, and being able to forgive one another. Because the Church is not supposed to be an island, cut off from society, but rather it is to be a community with a message of forgiveness and reconciliation that invades the world. As the Church grows in understanding what it means to forgive one another, it can have a major impact on societal sin.
Forgiving each other involves grace and truth. When we try to forgive in our own strength, it doesn’t work. We either put too much focus on grace, and we end up just accepting what’s going on but not really forgiving - that’s the road to being abused. Or we put too much focus on truth, and end up angry and unforgiving.
We need to come back each time to the Cross, see what Jesus has done and what he says, and receive this for ourselves. Only then do we have something to give to others.