Our Father: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Good Friday, 2012

Father: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

Freely-offered forgiveness is the hallmark of our faith.

The world’s great religions have different ideas about justice. In the East, they will tell you that karma will ensure that each person will ultimately get what they deserve, though it might take more than one lifetime. Islamic law emphasises due punishment for sins against the will of God. But Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” And he leaves us no room to doubt that he meant exactly what he said, for in St Luke’s Gospel he even cries from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus does not wait for an apology, but assumes his enemies have attacked him through ignorance, not ill-will. Earlier, alone among the evangelists, Luke tells us that when the servant’s ear was cut off at the moment of Christ’s arrest, the Lord healed the servant there and then.

In St John’s account of the arrest and crucifixion of Christ, which we have just heard, we are not shown those acts of forgiveness; instead, we see the generous spirit of Our Lord which motivates both forgiveness of enemies and love for his friends. When he is arrested, Christ says: “You have me – let my friends go.” Nailed to the Cross, he entrusts his Blessed Mother and his Beloved Disciple to one another. We in our turn are called to be Christlike, and John includes one small detail which speaks volumes – the presence of four soldiers, who cast lots.

Jesus’s outer clothes are shared out equally, but there is one item left over: his seamless undergarment. The soldiers recognise that selfishness will not lead to a useful outcome: what point is there in winning a sleeve or a corner, one quarter of a woven garment? Each soldier has the sense to realise: “If I claim my fair share, I will damage things for everyone.” So each soldier renounces his claim to a quarter. By agreeing to cast lots, one will win; three will gain nothing in a material sense – but all four will be at peace.

Jesus does more than renounce a claim to what is his; he takes on the punishment which is ours. Isaiah today offers us the image of a suffering servant doing just this. The letter to the Hebrews paints a picture of Jesus offering up prayer and entreaties on our behalf. Jesus, the wounded servant of God, does not want us to suffer the consequences of our own folly and faithlessness.

We do well to remember that there is one thing, just one, which severely limits the power of the Cross to take away our sin. In parables and by his actions on the Cross, Jesus teaches us again and again that we must choose one of two ways: the path of demanding our rights, or the way of forgiveness. The power to choose the way of forgiveness rests with us. St James, in his letter, puts it most clearly: “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful, but mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Our merciful Saviour, we are told, was praying all the time for sinners. Let us not be closed to his grace, but be willing to forgive as he forgave. This requires, at the very least, praying for our opponents and calling God’s blessings on those who have harmed or obstructed us in life. When our opponents express true sorrow, we must go further and extend the hand of friendship in return for sincere repentance. It takes two to reconcile, but only one to stand ready to forgive. As the soldiers renounced their claim to a quarter-share, so we are called to renounce our claim to justice, and obey the Lord’s commandment to love: Love which keeps no record of wrong, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In a moment, we will celebrate the power of the Cross to forgive our sins by coming and honouring the very wood which reminds us of the Saviour’s tree. We cannot fully honour the Cross unless we love as Jesus loved, by making real the prayer he taught us: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

Freely-offered forgiveness is the hallmark of our faith.

This entry was posted in Homily.