“…because forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” – Desmond Tutu in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a word that can unfortunately become familiar, easy, and rote for that of us in the church. We talk about it every Sunday, repeat the familiar refrain from the Lord’s Prayer of “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, and generally believe we understand the concept and execution of forgiveness. It’s one of our “Greatest Hits” that we’ve heard over and over and over again: We make mistakes, God is gracious, we are saved by grace through faith. We know the drill. For me, this works well enough for the everyday squabbles and missteps; the hurts that only require band-aids.
But then life slaps us in the cheek, and the deep, profound pain rattles us out of our patterns and preconceived notions. Deep hurts, hesitations, and anger cloud our lives and it changes how we view ourselves and the world around us. The deeper the pain, the harder forgiveness can be to truly claim. While it is a good thing that our church is familiar with the language of forgiveness, there are times when it can seem far too simple for the complex world we encounter. Because it is familiar, we sell it short.
After a challenging January and February of winter ice and cold, we find ourselves at the doorstep of a later-than-usual Lent. Over the course of my life in the pulpit, I’ve always enjoyed spending Lent investigating one topic or theme in a sermon series. After setting aside a few initial ideas, I found myself looking for a subject for this Lent when I was preparing the texts for this past Sunday and found that powerful, gracious story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 45. The story is a cup overflowing with emotion, healing, and restoration all hard-fought and seemingly impossible at times in Joseph’s story. It is deep, real, complex forgiveness; and I was taken aback by its impact, but also the cost of what it took to get there. It struck me that I need that deep forgiveness in my life for the places that hurt. I think we all do.
I’ve been a part of Sunday School classes and discussion groups on forgiveness in the past, and I’m always amazed by how many people attend. It’s a universal issue that pours out in so many questions: How do I faithfully deal with hurt and pain? Is being angry wrong and sinful? Why would God allow this to happen? Is God trying to teach me something? These are important and life-shaping questions that dive deeply into the meaning and practice of that word “forgiveness” that we use so much.
And so, we’re going to try, this Lent, to take a deeper look at the hard work of forgiveness and how it is a renewing, central practice in the Body of Christ. My hope is that we’ll all gain a greater understanding of how we can open the curtains of frustration and pain to breathe in restoration, resurrection, and hope.