Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Last week, as I prayed about a theme for our daily emails for Holy Week, I sensed the Spirit leading me to Jesus’ Seven Last Words from the Cross.
I sensed the Spirit leading us to prayerfully reflect on these seven sayings before our church was twice violated by an arsonist.
I sensed the Spirit leading us to prayerfully reflect on Jesus’ words from the cross before I realized what the first saying was,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
I cannot think of any words more fitting for us to meditate on today.
Jesus’ first words after he has been violated and brutalized is intercede for the ones who brutalized and violated him.
Twice this week our church has been violated and brutalized by an arsonist. Twice this week someone intentionally destroyed things we cherish, things we can never recover.
How will we respond?
From the cross, Jesus shows us the way to life is the way of forgiveness.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not condoning what happened. What happened was wrong.
Forgiveness is not absolution. The person responsible must still be held accountable and brought to justice.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation, the repairing of broken relationships, is only possible after the person who has done wrong takes responsibility for their action, apologizes, and begins making amends for the damage they have done.
Forgiveness is not for the person who has done wrong.
Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves by releasing the hurt, anger, and bitterness we feel toward the one who has wronged us.
Forgiveness, in this sense, is a process and often takes time.
Over the last 24 hours, it has slowly dawned on me all that I have lost.
My robe, a graduation gift from my parents, that I have worn most Sundays for the last 19 years.
The red stole placed on my shoulders at ordination; the white stole I wore when I preached my grandmother's funeral.
The hand-calligraphed copy of the Prayer of St. Francis April brought me when she visited Assisi; the cross-stitched cross she made for me the Christmas after her father died.
And all my books. So many books.
I am hurt by what has happened. I am angry at the person who did it.
But I refuse to let the hurt and anger turn into bitterness and resentment.
I chose to follow the way of Jesus on the cross so that I can begin to experience the healing he offers to all.
I hope you too will choose Jesus’ way of forgiveness.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Donnie Wilkinson
PS: In January, I preached on the topic of forgiveness. For a fuller exploration of this aspect of forgiveness,
please listen to the sermon