One of the things I love about our church family is that we celebrate communion every week, and that the leadership invite different members of the congregation to ake it in turns to share what communion means to us, in the midst of our real life right nows. On my sweet daughter’s first birthday, it was my turn. This is what I felt to talk about.
“At the moment, one word is ringing louder in my heart and mind and ears than any other – FORGIVENESS.
Now let me say this – I am the least qualified to share about this subject. My head gets it – something bad happens, someone says sorry, you say “I forgive you” and move on. But I just haven’t been able to wrap my heart around the whole thing. So this is thoroughly uncomfortable space for me.
But as I’ve wrestled with God on this whole thing, He gave me a really clear picture that I feel like He wanted me to share with you tonight.
I saw this picture of a person’s hands, gripping tightly onto this massive pile of dusty, dirty stones and rubble. The hands were strained and dirty, and quite strong looking, like they were used to the load. And I just knew looking at that person that their back must ache from carrying that load, and that it was not a fun position to be in, at all.
So I asked God – what was that all about?
He said that’s what unforgiveness looks like. It’s dirty and it’s painful, and it does you more harm than good and even though some of the rocks and burdens feel familiar and a part of who you are, they are doing you damage, and stopping you from being free.
And then in the next instant I just knew that that person had made a choice win their heart to do something very brave – to forgive.
And as he or she did – the picture changed and those same hands and arms were clean and free and stretched up to heaven in complete abandon. And I saw wave upon wave of living water wash over that person and restore and refresh the parts of them that had been weighed down and burdened for so long. And I heard God say – “This is what true forgiveness looks like. The rocks in your life turn into water when you forgive. Freedom comes from letting go and not holding onto the familiar, twisted, dirty things that weigh you down”.
Letting go is hard. It takes courage. Not least, as a good friend pointed out to me on Monday – because you have to trust that someone will be there to catch you when you do.
Theologian Christopher West says this in his Theology of the Body teachings:
“Your healing can only come as you learn to forgive. Let’s be clear what forgiveness is and what it is not. Forgiveness is not something cheap. It is something quite costly. We were bought with a very high price. Forgiveness does not mean saying it is ok. If it were ok there would be no need to ask for forgiveness. It’s not ok. If someone asks you to forgive them, don’t every say “it’s ok”. To say “I forgive you is worlds apart from it’s ok”. To say i forgive you is to acknowledge the depth of the offence but its to release the person who caused the offence to the justice and mercy of God. It’s to say I place you entirely in the hands of God, in his justice and in his mercy. I release you to him.”
In Psalm 103: 12 we read that “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” 1 John 1:9 reminds us that “… if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” And Matthew 6:14-15 is clear that “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
I’ve been thinking that when my husband proposed to me, he did it quite naively in a way. I’m sure he’d thought it all through and really was sure that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. But I realise now that he didn’t know me. But when Jesus proposed at the cross, he saw ALL of me. And He forgave all of me and still asked for my heart and my all in exchange for His, because He also saw the me he wanted me to be once I fell in love with him. And I’ve been thinking that that’s what forgiveness does – it looks past the immediate hurts and releases both.
So as we come to the Communion table – maybe take a minute to look at the state of your hands. Are you clinging on to any issues or areas of unforgiveness? Past hurts? Mistakes? Wrong doings? Arguments? He said she said? Do you need to forgive someone? Do you need to forgive yourself? Do you need to forgive God for not coming through in a way you had hoped or imagined? Because God longs for all of us to be truly free and reconciled to himself, to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters. But forgiveness is an active, brave, courageous choice. Dare to forgive. And let God do the rest…”