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Rose nebula: 'and the fire and the rose are one'Hallo again to all.

Many Christian churches 'round the world this Sunday followed a lectionary whose readings all focussed, laser-like, on forgiveness—an odd synchronicity following so soon after the remembrances of 11 September. So most of us this morning either listened to, or delivered, a sermon about forgiveness.

One goal of a sermon is to make us think. Perhaps the sermon writer does more thinking than the listeners; perhaps not. But this topic is hard not to think about, especially this week. Unspeakable horror: forgiveness. Purposeful death: forgiveness. Mass devastation: forgiveness. Is there anything so God awfully hard as this? Is there any command that makes being Christian so inhuman?

It would be different, wouldn't it, if forgiveness were only for the easy cases, graciously waving away the slight of a friend or obligingly overlooking an insult by a co-worker. It's the tough, bad, terrible cases that shred us. The child molesters. Serial murderers. Abusive parents. Terrorists. We can't think our way out of this one. There is very little wiggle room in this Gospel, where forgiveness is concerned. Desmond Tutu summarised crisply: there is no future without forgiveness*.

And recall the sonorous lines, with their stark condition, in the Lord's prayer: 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us'. Charles Williams wrote:

No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word 'as' in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union†.

When forgiveness fails, thoughts can drift to revenge. The world's newspapers this month grumble about pending war, about the use of force. And force—whether intellectual, physical, emotional, or any other sort—is not the way for Christians to advance the claims of our religion in a pluralistic world, writes Bishop Pierre Whalon in a new essay for Anglicans Online. 'It is not in our strength but our weakness that we may speak of Christ to others'.

Forgiveness is often the last great hurdle for us, we who profess and call ourselves Christian. We can heal from some terrible wound as time passes. We can find our life returning to something resembling normal. But still there is that high holy impossible mountain range in front of us, where we are to reach a place where we can act, where we are no longer passive victims, but active forgivers. Love, as someone once wrote, is the only weapon we have. It wasn't force that overcame the darkness of the tomb.

Under the mercy ...

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 15 September 2002

*Desmond Tutu, No future without forgiveness (1999)
Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins (1942)