Forgiveness beyond ourselves

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Earlier this week, I received a text message from someone whose question cut to the heart of Holy Week. Really, it goes to the heart of our faith. His question by-passes all the beautiful music, the powerful readings, the pageantry of the liturgy, the flowers… His question goes right to the cross.

The text message said, “Every night I say my prayers and I finish up with The Lord’s Prayer. Last night,” he explained, “as I was praying, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ I had the image of soldiers committing war crimes against innocent people. Are we directed to forgive them?”

I paused.

I knew I couldn’t ignore the question, but I also knew that because the person asking knows me, I wouldn’t be able to get by with a pious word or some kind of quick pastoral Band-Aid.

After a little while, I tried to be honest. I wrote back something like, “I know that I can’t always forgive as God asks me to, but I just have to say, “Jesus, you know I can’t bring myself to fully forgive so-and-so, or such-and-such, but work on me, and them.” Basically, I take Jesus up on his offer, when he said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.”

Even when I can’t forgive, especially when I can’t forgive as I should, I know someone who can.

In today’s long Gospel Reading, as we hear from St. Luke’s version of the Passion, the events that lead to Jesus being crucified on a cross, we hear again that even at the cross, Jesus forgives. As he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, Jesus prays for the soldiers who are committing crimes against him, against the others, against many other innocent or poor, or weak people. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” We should notice those words and always remember those words.

In his sermon earlier today, Pope Francis put it much better than I can:

When we resort to violence, we show that we no longer know anything about God, who is our Father, or even about others, who are our brothers and sisters…. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time. Christ is once more nailed to the Cross in mothers who mourn the unjust death of husbands and sons. He is crucified in refugees who flee from bombs with children in their arms. He is crucified in the elderly left alone to die; in young people deprived of a future; in soldiers sent to kill their brothers and sisters. ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Many people heard these extraordinary words [as Jesus prayed them from the cross], but only one person responded to them. He was a criminal, crucified next to Jesus.

During the next week, we are invited to follow Jesus even more closely.

The Daily Prayers take us with him through Jerusalem.

On Wednesday night, we pray through the Office of Tenebrae, and notice the ways in which some of the Hebrew scripture prophecies play out in the life of Jesus. We practice praying even as candles are extinguished and light seems to fade. But then, in the deep darkness, we’re reminded again that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

On Maundy Thursday, we see and imitate again, how Jesus serves, how he lives out a kind of simply humility by being present and serving others.

On Good Friday, from Noon to Three, we reflect more deeply on the Stations of the Cross and at Seven, we pray through the whole Good Friday Liturgy, as we hear the Passion of St. John, sung by the choir.

Saturday is the day in which things were quiet. Jesus was in the tomb. But Saturday night, we count time with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and observe the Eve of Easter, at 7PM in the Church Garden, we celebrate the first Holy Eucharist of Easter.

On Easter Day, some of us will be up early. We’ll meet at Carl Schurz Park for a 6AM Sunrise service on the Promenade.

Then, at Holy Trinity, we’ll celebrate Easter all day—at 8AM, at 11AM and at 6PM.

I invite you to make your way to the Cross this week. Take whatever weighs you down, whatever burdens you, whatever worries you, and hand it into the hands of the Wounded One who always forgives, and teaches us the way of love. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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