Lenten Meditations from the Pastoral Concerns Dept – Day 30 “FIRST WORD ON THE CROSS : FORGIVENESS AND EMPOWERMENT”
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev.Abhijith Bhimala, Presbyter , CSI Dornakal Diocese gives a meditation “FIRST WORD ON THE CROSS: FORGIVENESS AND EMPOWERMENT”
Lenten Meditations- Day 30 (for 9th April 2019)
“FIRST WORD ON THE CROSS: FORGIVENESS AND EMPOWERMENT”
Selected Texts: Luke 23: 34
One of the most celebrated forgiveness texts in the Bible is Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is often cited as the quintessential moment of unconditional Christian forgiveness and is considered as a model that believers should emulate. Jesus not only preached and advocated forgiveness but also, he claimed authority to forgive sins on earth (Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:23) and announced his mission as one of “forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47). When he cried out from the cross, he did not say to the persecutors, “I forgive you,” or, “your sins are forgiven.” Instead, he prayed that God the father might forgive them. Jesus, who instructed his followers to “bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28), now practiced his own teaching on the cross.
The Greek word which is translated as ‘forgive’ in the New Testament, aphiemi carries a wide range of meanings such as ‘to remit (a debt), to send away, to leave, to allow and to abandon.’ The words of forgiveness uttered by Jesus while hanging on the cross emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. Here we clearly see a ‘forgiving Christ.’ When we go through the passion narratives, we can clearly see the agony experienced by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and later by the flogging, the cruel insults and mocking done by the soldiers, rejection, abuse and suffering. Despite the excruciating pain that Jesus underwent, he still pleaded for forgiveness. It was a deliberate act. Many a time it is understood as an act of helplessness but in reality, it should be seen as an act with courage and commitment. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Hence by the act of forgiveness, Jesus challenged the world filled with hatred, to forgive in order to be able to envision a new world.
Forgiveness is very strongly advocated in the Bible. The Bible teaches that humans are in a basic sinful state before the Holy God and requires forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in order to be part of God’s kingdom. This is the crux of the gospel of salvation that is proclaimed by the church down the centuries. The theme of ‘Forgiveness’ runs clearly throughout the Bible. The instances like the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, the story of a woman caught in adultery in the New Testament and many more communicate the importance of forgiveness. The passages such as Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 clearly say that since we have been forgiven by God, we must forgive others who sin against us. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35 marks the correspondence between God’s abundant forgiveness of us with the relatively minimal forgiveness we are obligated to offer to those who sin against us. Even the prayer taught by our Lord reminds us that forgiveness is obligatory and conditional in order to be forgiven. Hence forgiveness is an integral component of Christian life.
Lenten period inspires and prompts us to forgive and also seek forgiveness. When we forgive, we make peace with the people who hurt us. Hostility turns into a beautiful restored relationship. In this, we clearly see the power of forgiveness. The hatred and enmity will disappear, and our hearts become lighter. This scenario will help us to focus on things that we are called to do. Emily J Hooks, the founder of ‘Forgiveness Academy’, considers forgiveness as an act of empowerment. The verb ‘empowerment’ is explained as ‘giving official authority to an individual to do something and/or promoting the self-actualization or influence of someone by making someone stronger and more confident.’ She further asserts that forgiveness leads to healing. Thus, Forgiveness empowers us to influence oneself and others, to reconcile, to rediscover, to heal, to liberate and strengthen the communities. Forgiveness ensures an act of reconciliation with God, fellow human beings and the whole creation. This reconciliation is not just about passively accepting but actively engaging in the process. Jesus clearly emphasized this act in Matthew chapter 5 verses 23-24, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you; leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Thus, Forgiveness enables us to actively involve in the transformative process initiated by God so that we can reconcile with God and creation.
The act of forgiveness is a clear initiative to the faith communities to become the agents of transformation. In the present-day context of growing challenges of war, terrorism, hatred communalism and religious intolerance, the church is called to live out an alternative transformative discipleship which Jesus exemplified. He chose forgiveness over judgment; love over hate. When Jesus could have cursed people, he willfully chose to forgive them and this is the model that should be followed by us.
Forgiveness empowers us to rebuild the wounded communities into communities of forgiveness, peace and hope. May this Lenten season challenge us to set our focus, not more on abstaining but providing, not on refusing but on embracing, not on dividing but on uniting, not on denying but on affirming, not on judging but on forgiving. It is only when we forgive that the wellness of our body and soul becomes possible. We must make terms with the sins done against us and also seek forgiveness to the person whom we have sinned and finally, we can say, “It is well with my soul.”
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my Lord, though has taught me to say
It is well, It is well with my soul.
- Horatio G. Spafford
Gracious Lord, we thank you for your teachings on forgiveness and modelling it on the cross of Calvary. Help us to grasp the power of forgiveness so that we may forgive our enemy and pray for them. Grant us grace to be the agents of reconciliation and peace in this world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
CSI Dornakal Diocese