This week, on the down slope of Lent toward the spiritual goal of Easter celebration, those commitments to selfless actions and thoughtful renewal made in early March usually become very heavy or need the repair of confession and forgiveness because they’ve been broken.
The discipline of prayer and fasting, for example, seems so simple in the beginning, but the brief weeks of one Christian season can seem like many lifetimes as daily frustration, familiar stresses and old habits are denied their relief – no cookies, no wine, no meat, daily prayer, study and silence, for instance. All can seem like torture.
The Rev. Edward Sunderland, a priest at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, said in his March 23 sermon:
“It has been said that forgiveness is nothing more and nothing less than giving up the right to resent. Giving up the right to resent is important because as Nelson Mandela said, paraphrasing one of the sayings attributed to the Buddha, ‘Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.’”
Forgiveness is the linchpin and cornerstone of observing Lent, and like the forgiveness everyone needs to extend to someone else at some time, it’s not as easy as merely considering it.
Sunderland went on to say to his congregation, “The interesting thing is that in giving up the right to resent you stop worrying about the past, the reasons, the rationalizations and the excuses; and you free yourself to be bigger than your failures and bigger than your resentments over the failures of others. Forgiveness frees us to put the past in the past where it belongs. Forgiveness frees us to believe the promises of God. Forgiveness frees us to love.”
Almost everyone at heart expects to be loved. Most people find extending love difficult, at least occasionally.
Henri Nouwen, the writer/priest, wrote that “Forgiveness is the name of love, practiced among people who love poorly.”
Nouwen’s gift for getting to the issue is discomfiting. He goes on to say, “The hard truth is that all of us love poorly and we need to forgive and be forgiven, every day, every hour unceasingly.”
Now, as Easter draws closer and the most draining parts of the Gospel story approach, we all need a clearer view of forgiving and forgiveness.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, held a clear vision of forgiveness: “The grace of God herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, and enables us to leave them.”
What’s sought is already provided, and moving forward is a matter of accepting.