There is a brand new canticle to sing.
It is a canticle of healing and salvation.
This canticle sings of Jesus,
forever God, forever human,
forever on a cross, forever risen, forever forgiving.
This new canticle sings of love,
of days to come, filled with hope,
where our sorrow is held in the joy of new life.
But wait, there is a challenge here!
For this forever forgiving God
who applies no strings,
who only offers life in abundance to all
asks that I, we, pay this abundance forward
and forgive those who have done us harm,
forgive past harm, forgive future injuries,
forgive calumny and insult
and those who have shamed us
and those who will shame us
and those who injure those whom we love
and those and those and those and those…
We are not to endure suffering or
seek out martyrdom or to continue living where the
violence is unlivable or to support the regimes
of bullies—domestic or national,
but, for the sake of our own souls,
and for the soul of the world and the soul of the cosmos
we are to forgive.
This is our spiritual work as humans: to forgive.
It truly is a brand new canticle!
Romans 6:6 — The Message
6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
Luke 23:33-35 — The Message
33 When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.
34-35 Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!”
For this six-part sermon series on the Idea of the Cross, I have based my conversations on a classical and traditional vision of Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity and as being Fully Divine and Fully Human. I do this because it is part of my faith-system (I actually believe this). It is because I believe this that I find it impossible to believe in the Doctrines of Original Sin or the Atonement. For if Jesus shows us the true nature of God, then doctrines of violence and condemnation and rejection and abuse just plain do not work.
The cross was an event that carries multilayered meanings for us in our own time, and, we, just as those early followers of Jesus, are trying to make sense of it. At its most basic level it was a method of control used by the Romans to keep a subservient people in line and to deal with insurrection so brutally and shamefully so as to quell thoughts of rebellion before they started. It was a symbol of the power of force. For any individual going through the brutality it was a horrid process where death was not just an end of life, but an end to their suffering.
It was the cross that showed Christianity in its true light. Early Christians proved, not only could water be turned into wine, but that they could see an empty glass as half full, and that they could take the most sour lemons, and turn them into really fine lemonade. They took the shame of the cross and reframed it into a point of glory. The dead-end that was torture and death was turned into an absolute victory over death itself. The event that was built on the skulls of past victims of horror of an unforgiving empire, became a place of forgiveness where not only bullies, tormentors, and evil empires were forgiven, but even future followers of Jesus would discover the healing of Jesus’ forgiveness and a challenge to pay forward the healing received. Let us take a look at forgiveness itself.
Artist, Poet, and Spiritual Guide, Rev. Laura West writes, “When an ancient hatred becomes a present love that is true forgiveness.” (West is quoting from, A Course in Miracles, here.) She states further, “Untrue forgiveness is what most commonly falls under the notion of forgiveness. How often have we heard it said ‘I have forgiven my X (my parents, my sister, my in-laws, etc.) for what they did to me.’ The ‘for what they did to me,’ is the tip-off that a grudge is still being held.” WOW! I suppose it goes along with the idea that we have to forgive, but we were never told we have to forget. Rev. West says otherwise. She suggests we have to let go of the grudge. Ouch! Her calling our act of not forgetting a grudge makes it sound so, so, well so base. So like what one of those non-Christians would do. Untrue forgiveness, how can we possibly learn true forgiveness? Why would we possibly want to?
Don’t we rather enjoy nursing an old wound like it was a snifter of the finest ancient brandy? If we would listen to Rev. West it is never like fine brandy, but more akin to really bad wine that offers you a hangover that just goes on and on. She writes, “A person who feels this way has pardoned a criminal in their eyes. This person is still a criminal for what they did in the past and the past still binds them both because it is brought into the present.” The hangover goes on forever and the sorrow never ends. However, she continues by offering an out for the grudge-holder. “How many times have you heard this: ‘What happened in the past is completely irrelevant now?’ Anyone who says this has released themselves from the past and stepped into the freedom of the present. In fact the things we have truly forgiven are forgotten, not because we can’t remember them if we wanted but because we no longer have the need to remember them. There no longer is a grudge to keep alive by remembering.”
West states that the great change, the transmutation, the alchemy can happen if we can take ourselves, “out of the center of [our] awareness.” She states that, “ This is not so easy to do because almost all our thoughts flow in an effort to maintaining the centrality of a self-image that is inherently false. That is why it takes so much effort, so many thoughts. Spiritual practices of all religions address this very need to take one’s false self out of the center of awareness.”
I think we can all relate to this idea of having a false self. We can feel its presence when we are interacting with others and we are not being truly ourselves. We may say we do not lie, but that is really only a half-truth. Many times what we really do is to act non-authentically. We do not present the truth of who we are to others. There is a being within us that is holy, divine, sacred, godly. There is a false presence also that is full of fear, anger, pride, hurt. The one part desires truth, goodness, peace, holiness, and healing. The other part feels small and wants to get even, to last out, to exact payment for wrongs, and will not let go of perceived pain. The natural instinct’s of a human is for survival. Fight or flight. What do we do on our crosses? When we are in danger we need to take care of ourselves—defend ourselves in any way that is needed, run, or seek shelter, But true survival depends on how we respond to the situation after it is over and we are safe. Do we carry it around with us? Do we worry at it like a creature with a never-healing sore? Do we pretend it never occurred and try to act as if we are just fine? Do we dream or scheme away our hours planning revenge—real or imagined? What if the rest of eternity depended on how you, like Jesus responded to your suffering? Could you bring yourself to forgive your trespasser?
What would your true self do? Your honest to goodness true self. There are times when you do or say or think in ways that afterwards you wish you had done otherwise. The self you wish had acted instead is usually your true self. That self that is itself divine and is as Jesus is. It is the self that would rise to a higher calling if you would allow it. It is the self that was created in you that is good, kind, vulnerable, strong, beautiful, not fearful, cheerful, generous, and so complete that it can love even its enemies. It is a self that cares for itself and is kind to itself in ways that protect you from harm, can confront, stand up to, a bad situation out of the strength of love, not fear. It is a self that can fight for what is right regardless of the odds and know when also to run and hide. It is a self that is true to your strengths, understands your weaknesses, and judges you good because of both. It is this self we are called to grow into, but more, it is the self that is truly you, that self that is always within you waiting to be released, that self God created in you, with which you were born.
Jesus, hanging on the cross, in the midst of his personal suffering, offers forgiveness to his tormenters. In so doing he releases himself from the violence of the mob’s hatred and vituperation, and I believe was able to move into a present that held a future which included an Easter Morning. West suggests, “True forgiveness is a kind of transmutation of hatred into love.” She calls it, “…alchemy of greatest value.” It was a movement from violence to grace. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had acted fully human? What if he had cursed his tormentors instead of forgiving them? It is obvious to me that Easter would not have happened. Death would have gone on, business as usual. God would have lost. Evil would have won. Humanity would have surely lost, too. But Jesus reached deep into his divine self, that half that wasn’t fully human, and forgave. But what if this choice and this consequence is offered to us daily? What if within our decisions to forgive or not forgive are the fulcrums upon which Eternity balances? I think that in part it is.
What I want you to take away from this sermon is that our full reception of true love is based on true forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an act we have to do to get God’s love, but I believe it is an act that opens our hearts to receive God’s love to the utmost and fullest. In the same way the forgiveness we seek and desire from God and others is a forgiveness we already possess, yet for us to fully taste, touch, feel, absorb that forgiveness we need to be fully practiced in the process of forgiving.
However, the act of forgiveness is not a prescription, whereby should you choose to forgive, then the whole world and your life and what you need to forgive will just disappear and all will be well. That is not how I believe it works. That is like telling someone that they should look at their suffering as a means to getting closer to Christ, or that they should try and find hope in their suffering, or that because Jesus suffered for you, then you should suffer for Jesus, and therefore all your suffering is a sacred process to which you should look forward. Blauch! There are no magic tricks here, no sorcerer’s words for a get-better spell. I can say with assurance, though, that when I forgive, sometimes, if the situation or person doesn’t change for the better, at least through my act of forgiving, I do change. AND isn’t that the true miracle, that somehow, however minutely, we change—just a little?
The post from which I quote above, was posted by Rev. Laura West on her blog, Mystic Heart, on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. You can read more of Rev. West’s thoughts at http://www.mysticheart.blogspot.com