The Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross occupy our Sundays in worship this Lenten season and on through Resurrection Sunday. We hope to hear the Lord Jesus in ways that bring us nearer the Cross and shape us to become more like the Lord. Last Sunday we began at the beginning, with the First Word: “Father, forgive them.” The First Word is first not because it may have been the first said, but because the basis of everything is found in the forgiveness of God.
Most of what I know about forgiveness I have learned firsthand in the laboratory of life, but I learned to talk about the experience through the teaching and writings of others. In Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, L. Gregory Jones lines out six steps (italicized) toward making forgiveness real in our lives:
1. We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.
2. We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness and a desire to overcome them. This step comes with the reminder that anger not appropriately expressed can soon become rage or depression.
3. We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. We are encouraged to do this for that is who they are. In Abraham Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural Address” – what some think is his greatest speech – we hear the vision of a person who believed: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” The ability to grow toward seeing your enemy as potential friend does not mean allowing the hate or dysfunction of another to victimize you or others. It means refusing to be a victim and taking the initiative to pray for the other asking God to help you see the person as God sees the person.
4. We recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past, and take the step of repentance. While people should be held accountable for their actions, we commit to remember our own need to repent and ask forgiveness before we destroy another person for their acts and attitudes against us.
5. We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness does not just look backward to the absolution of guilt; it also looks forward to the restoration of community. Forgiveness ought to usher in” justice and change for it is shaped by the love that resides in the heart of God. God has chosen to let love work through God’s people, through people like us.
6. We confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness is not about keeping score; it is about restoring human beings to healthy relationships with God and one another. We must want that, yearn for that, pray for that. We must keep “hoping against hope” for reconciliation.
Some situations are so painful that reconciliation may seem impossible. Sometimes our partner in pain refuses to dance. God calls Christians to a “ministry of reconciliation.” God calls us to live within God’s forgiveness, letting our lives be shaped by God’s practice of forgiveness, letting ourselves become vessels of forgiveness, practicing the wholeness that comes when we live as forgiven people.
While some people may never let your forgiveness touch them, you can still pray for them and want for them the healing power of forgiveness. You can do what you are called to do and then place them in God’s hands remembering what is impossible with human beings is still possible with God.
Walking to Jerusalem,