I know that it won’t be possible to achieve reconciliation with all the people I would like to. Some are dead and gone, with others I don’t have any kind of relationship now. I think of the old boss who was not truthful with me, or the jealous colleague who went out of his way to be mean, or the college girlfriend I hurt through my insensitivity, or the neighbor with whom I fell out of touch and has since died. It’s unlikely to impossible that I will ever be able to sit across from any of them for a moment of extending and receiving forgiveness.
Most of us, I imagine, face similar circumstances. We want closure; we want to make it whole. In these instances, I find the role-modeling of Jesus and the rituals of my faith tradition to be most valuable. Jesus, as Marjorie Thompson points out, did not require repentance as a condition of forgiveness. He took the risk of first offering the healing power of forgiveness, trusting that this gesture would send forth a transforming energy. I see in these merciful acts a heart of deep love, maturity, compassion, and patience. Jesus looked at others, especially those who wronged him, who hated him, the way God looks at all of us – as a loving, blessing, forgiving grandparent.
My Catholic faith tradition has also given me the sacrament of reconciliation. I realize that for non-Catholics, this ritual is bewildering, but I have found it to be a spring of grace. In the Byzantine Catholic form, one confesses to the icon of Jesus, while the priest simply stands by. In this sacred, liminal moment of confession, I name before Jesus and another person what I hold deepest in my heart – that of which I am ashamed, that which I regret, that for which I need to be forgiven. The healing, liberating power of the words of forgiveness, spoken and received, make real for me God’s merciful love. After confessing, I am assigned a penance. Through this, I take some concrete action toward restoring the damage I have caused; I make an expression of what Thompson calls restorative justice; I take a small step toward making things whole.
Friends and members of our Christ Church family have prepared these daily reflections as a means for you to consider how forgiveness informs your faith walk during this holy season. They are a richly diverse group from many different geographies around our nation and globe, formed by a wide variety of traditions.