The Last Words of Christ: Forgiveness

February 18, 2013

The Last Words of Christ: Forgiveness

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The season of Lent is a time in which we prepare our heart, mind, and soul for Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Typically we would hear stories of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem: the over-turning of the Temple money-changing tables, the last supper, Jesus’ denial, betrayal, arrest, trail, and crucifixion. This year we will begin this journey at the foot of the cross, slowly meditating on Jesus’ last words, offering us comfort, challenge, sorrow, and hope. Each week we will live with a single verse as we rend our hearts open in joyful and challenging Christ-centered self-examination. We begin with Jesus’ first word; forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Father: Here we have the privilege of overhearing a conversation within the heart of the Trinity itself. “Father,” Jesus says. Jesus reveals that God is present in the midst of suffering. God is not abandoning Jesus; rather God is suffering in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. “Father,” he says. The cross is not a symbol of abandonment. It is a proclamation that God suffered, that God entered into death to redeem and transform this ancient enemy of life. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “Death as been swallowed up in victory. Where, o death is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting,” fulfilling the words of the prophet Hosea who said, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14) “Father,” he says. God is there. God is here. God entered into death so that no longer would death be life’s final word.

Father, forgive them:” Traditionally the cross is a symbol of justification, pardon, and forgiveness, but without pouring our hearts and minds into Jesus’ words we miss how all that is, seen and unseen is being redeemed. As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). You see, Jesus already had the authority to pardon and forgive. In Luke 5 four friends bring a paralytic to Jesus, and seeing their faith, Jesus says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the Pharisees began to argue saying, “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus replies, “Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Take up your mat and walk?’” After the Pharisees offer only silence, Jesus says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, take up your mat and walk.” Before the nails were placed through his hands, Jesus had the power to forgive, but in this moment something powerful, radical, and inconceivably loving is happening.

Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a Tax collector in Luke 18. The Pharisee was praising his own righteousness before God. The tax collector, however, was standing far off, beating his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you the tax collector went home justified rather than the other because those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” “Father, forgive them,” Jesus says, even though no one at the foot of the cross is beating his chest or rending his garment or crying out for pardon. No one is asking to be forgiven, and yet Jesus petitions on their behalf anyway. In this moment, God is reconciling all things. Even though they did not know how to ask, through Christ’s humiliation, God’s grace and mercy is offered when on the third day the tomb is empty. “Father, forgive them,” he says. This radical grace does not free us from confession; rather daily we should pray, “Father, have mercy on me this day as you did on that day. Remember Christ’s petition of pardon that day as I remember and live in Christ today.” “Father, forgive them,” he says.

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing:” Jesus’ words from the cross go back to the beginning; Christ’s brokenness reaches back to the beginning. When the man disobeyed and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God asked the man, “What did you do?” and he answered with blame. God then turns to the woman and asks the same question, “What did you do?” Likewise she answered with blame. In the next generation, after Cain murdered his brother, God said, “Your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. What did you do?” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is not that God is ignorant. It is God desperately trying to offer forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus’ “they” encompasses all of time, from the first act of disobedience to the last. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Christ’s petition of forgiveness is our begging and our end. This is what it means to commune with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Do we ever fully understand how our sin destroys relationships, creates systems of oppression, fills us with pride, turns our hearts to love profit over people? If our knowledge falls short, what is being asked of us? Faith. We are asked to trust in God’s promise. We are asked to live in Christ. We are asked to walk with the Holy Spirit. “What does the Lord require of you?” asks the Prophet Micah. “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8b). Regardless if this is your first season of Lent or your one hundred and first season of Lent, know that God is with us. Know that you are loved and forgiven. Know that God desires you to respond in faith: trusting in God’s promise, living according to the example of Christ, and humbly walking with the Holy Spirit. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” God is reconciling all things . . . even you and me. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.