“Father, forgive them,” Jesus prays from the Cross. “Father forgive them.”
To us he says, “Forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times.” A bit later he adds, “Forgive from the heart.”
“Really, are you sure?” I find myself asking.
“Even when I’ve been deeply hurt?”
“Even when the wound is raw?”
“Even when someone I love has been taken from me. Even then?”
“How can that be?” I find myself asking Jesus. “How can that be?”
I used to think forgiveness was part of a simple equation: Someone hurt me or I hurt them, “I’m sorry” was said, and forgiveness happened. But now I’m not so sure about that equation.
I used to think forgiveness happened quickly—an injury inflicted, an apology offered, and forgiveness given. Just like that. Not quite instantaneously but pretty darn close. But now I’m not so sure.
I used to think forgiveness required forgetting or suppressing the injury, the pain, the hurt, the shame. But now I think forgiveness and forgetting do not go hand in hand.
I used to think forgiveness somehow erased the act that hurt so very much. Now I wonder—can anything erase a hurt?
I used to think forgiveness was something I did when someone said to me, “Forgive me.”
But now I’m not so sure.
In the book The Kite Runner, one of the characters—Amir–reflects on how he finally experiences forgiveness towards his father. Running across a picture of his half-brother, Amir holds the picture in his hand and begins to speculate about his father and his brother. He realizes, as he puts down the picture, that all his anger towards his father has slipped away. He says, “I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
I wonder if forgiveness is something that happens in us and through us—a kind of grace that God imparts in human hearts. I wonder if forgiveness—that releasing of the bond of pain and anger and hurt and shame that ties us to another person—buds and flowers in us over time. One day, we look around and see that that chain of hurt has just slipped away.
Today, our country marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11; today people throughout the Episcopal Church are praying a prayer for our enemies. It goes like this:
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Listen to those verbs: lead, deliver, enable. These are words addressed to God—God who plants in our hearts the seeds of forgiveness.
I used to think that forgiveness was an act of will—something that required a decision and an action on my part. No more.
Forgiveness comes from God through us. It requires from us an openness to God working in us and through us and a readiness to pray with Jesus, “Father, forgive them.” Amen.