The first time I saw forgiveness first hand has stood by me and shaped how I understand it today. I was not long out of university and my team leader had made a comment with no intent to hurt but as words can do it stung. No doubt because there was a morsel of truth in it that I did not want to hear. But it had hurt and that hurt caused a rift. A rift that another team member saw and sought to see redeemed. She arranged for myself and the team leader to meet and to talk. Before I could say anything my team leader had acknowledged what he had said and said sorry. I felt silly and embarrassed. This was wrong, he was older than me, surely I was just being a silly little girl and should not let his comments bother me so I mumbled a comment to the effect of ‘ no worries, it doesn’t matter.’ He would not accept that and apologised again asking for my forgiveness. I realised that unless I forgave him this was not going to go away. I realised that I needed to extend forgiveness to him. I had no idea what that meant or looked like but as soon as I said ‘I forgive you’ both he and I were set free.
That experience has stayed with me and while I am not always quick to forgive as I should be I do seek to forgive in tangible ways and not just accept an apology. It is why we are teaching our children to not only say ‘sorry’ but also to say ‘I forgive you’ with a hug. It is why we don’t just say thank you when someone says sorry to us, but we say I forgive you. Often conversation is about the importance of saying sorry and taking responsibility for our actions. We are called as Christ followers though to be Christ like, to forgive. To forgive seventy times seven. I am thankful I have never experienced life changing events at the hands of others that have placed in the position of wondering if I can forgive them for their actions. But I wonder without the daily practice of forgiveness in the little things that extending forgiveness through more significant events is possible.And our world needs forgiveness if it is going to find a way forward to peace.
Those of us familiar with liturgical forms of worship are all to familiar with confession and forgiveness but I have been struck recently with the times when ‘thank you’ rather than ‘I forgive you’ has been used in conversations what we mean when we declare God has forgiven us. Do we miss the freedom of the life of believers partly because we have made ‘you are forgiven, sin no more’ into ‘thanks for owning up’? Do we really get that in forgiving us God keeps no record of our actions, if we simply say ‘ thank you’, by which we nor the other person are truly able to move forward as no one knows what that means as far as we stand with each other; is the person hurt still harbouring resentment and pain, or have they actually moved on, or are they actually that concerned about our relationship. It can leave people unsure and hesitant, it keeps barriers up between each other.
It is not easy to forgive but that does not mean we do not do it. That is why I believe saying sorry is only part of the story. But saying ‘ I forgive you’ must be part of the story to, not an optional extra, not something lost to banal politeness. As we move toward Easter, there is both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. May we be people who do not avoid the repentance of Good Friday but may we be people who do not forget the wonder of Easter Sunday, of new life, of new hope, and extend tangible forgiveness to those who need it from us, for their sake, for our sake and because it reflects the glory of our risen Christ.