What does it mean to say that God forgives us? And how might this forgiveness be actualised in our life here and now? In the Catholic tradition we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation which we believe to be nothing less than the guaranteed application of God’s eager mercy to our personal (and collective) brokenness. Understood properly and celebrated correctly, this sacrament is sheer power and grace, but so many decent and sincere penitents would admit: ‘I don’t FEEL forgiven’. What is happening when God forgives us?
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
The moving words of Jesus spoken from the cross.
Did God forgive? And did they really have no clue?
And does the they in any way implicate us?
Can it be that we have also contributed?
That by our sins we lash and nail Him to the tree?
That Jesus’ passion unto death is repeated?
And each cruel hammer blow dealt by you and me?
In these enlightened days, has sin been downgraded?
Hell and judgment are out of fashion, so last year;
Moralistic sermons like priest numbers faded;
A sugary sweet God for whom we have no fear?
Yet sin is vile, and its ripples are far reaching,
Cancerous cells, malignant if not terminal;
The Church as Jesus’ body, Spirit grace leaching;
Seen by outsiders as flawed, even criminal.
We are the recipients of an awesome love,
Yet live with awful sin: my sin, your sin, and then,
Each day coping with the dynamic tension of
Original Blessing and Original Sin.
In our woundedness and wounding of others,
We limp onwards, desperate for strong medicine:
For reconciliation with all our brothers,
We crave forgiveness, both for self and them.
But what does it mean when we say: ‘I forgive you’?
Assuming said sincerely, what can it achieve?
For us, refusing to be shrivelled by hate’s due;
For them, the real offer of a complete reprieve?
A certain wisdom tells us: ‘forgive and forget’;
How do we forget, especially for great hurts?
We tend to prevaricate: not now, not yet…
Or perhaps our pain constrains our puny efforts?
What then does it mean when God says: ‘I forgive you’?
Is His forgiveness like His love: unlimited?
Are there sins so grievous that He will eschew?
And turn His face from us, condemning us instead?
And how could God ever forget – He who sees all:
Standing outside time, present to all our moments?
Never was prosecution more briefed for trial;
And never was judge more aware of the offence.
When God forgives it’s total, no half measures:
In Jesus, the mercy gates have been flung wide open;
God detests the sin but gave His life for sinners;
All humanity healed by His body broken.
“Long have I waited for your coming home to me”.
The prodigal Father, caution thrown to the wind,
Embracing His returning child so publicly,
Underlines His eagerness to heal and rescind.
His pledge: “I cast all your sins behind my back!”
It’s as if they never happened – slate wiped clean.
His single purpose – to get us back on track;
A complete new start, His covenant supreme.
We fall, He reaches out; we fall, He cradles us;
How does our God forgive? Unhesitatingly,
Warmly, tenderly, slow to anger, rich in love.
Forgiveness – the ripe fruit of His great mercy.
In Catholic tradition we have Confession:
Sacramental guarantee and sign. Yet more:
Real catharsis, where guilty-mess gets expression;
Healing light on our darkness – for souls’ restore.
Well celebrated, it has profound ability,
To reach far beyond the intellectual nod,
To anoint the whole person in tranquility:
This sacred rendezvous of penitent and God.
How much more…? How much more! Sinner, see:
We may tremble to take this precious grace-hold,
We may fail to dream-gauge such immensity,
And our frail hearts may falter to be faith-bold;
But never ever ever think Him reluctant,
That He should be shrink-wrapped human-small,
For Jesus, love’s true sacrifice and celebrant,
Commands we forgive our fellow men after all.