On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 (ESV)
So what could Jesus say to us today about forgiveness?
Most Protestant Christians, including Lutherans, don’t practice regular confession and absolution. Since every human alive is also a sinner, it might be a good practice for us to revisit. While Lutherans don’t view confession as a sacrament like Roman Catholics do, we are called to confess our sins and to hear the words of absolution proclaimed to us. When Pastor proclaims the forgiveness of our sins during corporate confession in worship, or in private confession, he is simply passing along the forgiveness and absolution that Jesus has already won for us.
It is not possible to go through life without being offended in some way or another. It is also not possible for us to go through life without offending others. We sin without thinking about it, all day long. We make comments, we forget to do things we should do, and we break the Law all day long whether we know it or not. Other people do the same things to us that we do to them, because they are lawbreakers too. We are iustus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time) indeed.
Someone might cut us off while driving, or take the last donut that we really wanted. Those are fairly easy offenses to forgive. Other offenses are not so easily forgiven. Those of us who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, or have otherwise endured serious harm from another have a lot harder time forgiving. If the petition of the Lord’s Prayer that affirms “Thy will be done” is the most difficult of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is the second most difficult petition. It’s not easy to let go of a grudge, even though it’s hard to see how hanging on to our angst against someone might somehow punish them in some way. It’s like taking poison in the hopes of making one’s enemy ill.
Even though on examination we find holding a grudge doesn’t make rational sense, the pain of suffering from serious offenses is nothing to trivialize. Everyone who has spent much time on this planet in the company of other sinners is a member of the “walking wounded” to some degree. Some of us suffer from unspeakable wounds both deep and profound. How are we supposed to forgive the most evil of offenses? Just ignoring things and failing to acknowledge our pain is not a valid answer. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or not feeling, rather it is a choice to let the offense go and to leave our pain and anger to God. Sometimes we also have to seek other believers who can pray for and with us, and offer us spiritual and emotional care, as God ministers to us through the Body of Christ (as in other Jesus followers!) We who have the same hope and the same Lord need to encourage each other and give each other strength. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11)
We follow Jesus’ example when we forgive, Jesus who forgave His tormentors (as they were rolling the dice to divvy up His clothes,) even while He was enduring the unfathomable and unimaginable suffering of the Cross.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:33-34 (ESV)
When we forgive as Jesus forgives us, not only are we forgiven, but He gives us His peace. Because He has taken the punishment that brings us peace, and bears the wounds that bring our healing (Isaiah 53:5) we can endure. We can surrender the burden of our pain to Him. We look to the Cross for our healing.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
It may sound simplistic and silly to simply trust Jesus and surrender our sins, our burdens and our pain to Him. But it is only in Him- and in entrusting those who offend or “trespass against us” to Jesus. We look to the Author of our salvation to find forgiveness, healing and rest.