The Radical Gospel of Forgiveness

Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 22 April 2012

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

The two themes in today’s readings that stand out for me are the forgiveness of sins and witnessing. When we witness we proclaim something to others, but we can only bear witness to that which we have experienced and understood. The writer of the two-volume work Luke-Acts in particular stresses that the central to the teaching of Jesus and at the heart of the message we proclaim is forgiveness of sins, the assurance that nothing which we have done need stand between us and the God who is ready to accept us with open arms. Being forgiven is also what makes the loving, accepting community of God’s people possible.

I am uncomfortable with explanations of the saving significance of Jesus’ death on the cross that suggest that God somehow requires violence to cover over sin so that God can forgive us. God is no blood-thirsty tyrant. Peter’s preaching in Acts attributes the violent impulse clearly to humanity. God is the one who overturns this, and brings life out of death. Christ’s death at the hands of the civil and religious authorities of the day unmasks the evil violence that humanity engages in, even (perhaps particularly?) in the name of religion and the common good. In the resurrection God shows that even humanity’s worst evil does not destroy God’s purposes. God’s response to the murder of the author of life is to show that life triumphs, and to offer to those who stand exposed in their sinfulness complete forgiveness.

It is easy to read the psalm from the perspective of Jesus as the righteous sufferer who is heard and vindicated by God. The amazing thing is that the gift of God’s accepting smile and the peaceful sleep denied those wracked by guilt or fear is also offered to the very ones who killed Jesus. They need only turn and accept the forgiveness that God offers them.

It isn’t that sin doesn’t matter. This isn’t about trivialising sin, but about grasping something of the awesome gratuitousness of the overwhelming love of God. And it is precisely in accepting the mind-blowing forgiveness of God through Christ that the love of God begins to take hold in us so that we are transformed. We don’t have to be sinless to earn God’s favour. Our efforts to live a righteous life flow out of knowing that we are unconditionally loved, they should not be our attempt to earn God’s love and forgiveness.

The first disciples knew that the resurrected Christ is the same Jesus whom they followed prior to the crucifixion. They came to understand the biblical story in a way that illuminated God’s purposes in Jesus. Their testimony is the first in a long line of witnesses that has led to where we stand today. We are also called to be witnesses when we experience the transforming power of God’s forgiveness in Christ. When we realise the treasure we have been given, how can we but share it with others?

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About Jessie Rogers

I'm a Scripture scholar and Godly Play practitioner living in Ireland.
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