Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Ephesians 4:17f St. Matthew 9:1f
“Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee”
The lessons focus on two intimately related themes: the forsaking of sins and the forgiveness of sins. Both involve a re-ordering, a re-establishing of the interior life of the soul: the first as directed to the soul’s activity, to what we must do; the second, to the soul itself, to who and what we are.
Forgiveness means the actual putting away of the obstacles which hinder the soul’s true motion towards the good, towards God - it means the removal of sin. Forsaking means the actual turning away from sin to the active loving of the true and absolute good, God - it means the pursuit of righteousness. The forgiveness of sins enables the forsaking of sins, the following after righteousness through the restoration of righteousness in us.
The forsaking of sins and the forgiveness of sins involve a motion away from sin to righteousness. That motion of the soul is repentance. As Jeremy Taylor writes:
Repentance, of all things in the world, makes the greatest change: it changes things in heaven and earth; for it changes the whole man from sin to grace, from vicious habits to holy customs, from unchaste bodies to angelical souls, from swine to philosophers, from drunkenness to sober counsels.
“Repentance makes the greatest change”. It means just that - a change, a change in outlook, a metanoia, a conversion in the sense of a turning around, a turning around because of having been turned around. Repentance means a change of heart and a conversion of mind. “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind”, writes St. Paul, exhorting the Ephesians to repentance, to the forsaking of sins, “put off the old manhood...put on the new manhood”, “put away....all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking...with all malice”, for “ye have not so learned Christ”. Repentance means a radical re-ordering of the soul’s activity. But how is this possible? How are our vicious habits to be transformed into holy customs?
“Be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”. God’s forgiveness must be active in our forgiveness. The forsaking of sins depends radically upon the forgiveness of sins and the forgiveness of sins is a divine act - a divine activity accomplished in the flesh of our humanity, in the very manhood of Christ. For lest we should think that this motion of the soul is wholly our own doing, the Collect recollects to us that the forsaking of sins and the forgiveness of sins is an essentially divine activity in us.
“O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee: Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts”.
God alone can forgive sins, but it is man alone who must be forgiven. The two sides meet in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness belongs to God because the forgiveness of sins means the restoration of man into righteousness. This cannot be accomplished by a mere forgetting of sin - the pretence that nothing happened when, in fact, something did - but by a making right of what was wrong, a transformation of sin into righteousness, of evil into good.
The gospel story anticipates the forgiveness of sins for the whole world. It anticipates the passion of Christ. For Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. In Him, there is perfect accord between the truth of our humanity and true divinity. Christ forgives the sins of the man sick with palsy; Christ perceives the hidden thoughts of the Scribes; Christ heals the paralytic in order that “ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins”. Forgiveness, omniscience, resuscitation anticipating resurrection - these are all divine activities wrought by Christ in the flesh of our humanity “that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins”. Forgiveness on earth is through the Word made flesh. Christ in the inmost being of his perfect human soul yields to the will of his heavenly Father, referring all things to the divine source of all things and all activity. He intercedes, for when he dies, he has the whole of mankind in his heart.
The forgiveness of sins is a divine act. It means a restoration, a re-creation. The God who creates out of nothing, restores man out of the nothingness of sins. He re-establishes man in righteousness. The vehicle of this restoration is the humanity of Christ. The restoration is accomplished in the Passion and Death of Christ.
Jesus is by his own death the forgiveness of sins; he is the resurrection and the life through his own resurrection. We are thrown into the life-giving sepulchre of Christ, we touch the slain and living Christ, his body and his blood; our sins are forgiven us, and we live by him; we arise to walk in all those good works that he has prepared for us to walk in. (Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year, Trinity XIX)
It cost the heart-blood of the Son of God to obtain heaven for us. Forgiveness ultimately means to will the true good, the good that is God himself and the goal of man. Forgiveness is no superficial gesture. It must come from the heart, from the heart of God into our hearts. It concerns not simply the penalties or the consequences of sin but sin itself.
But what is the act of forgiving in us? If you say, “I forgive you, but I can’t forget”, then you haven’t forgiven the sin. You have merely sent away or put away the penalty that you might have exacted, your pound of flesh, as it were. But the original wrong isn’t made right between you. It isn’t forgiven. Forgiveness cannot be mere words, sounds signifying nothing. Or if you despise the one who has offended you so that it is a matter of repugnance or a matter of indifference to have nothing further to do with him, then you haven’t forgiven him so much as tried to forget him, to erase him from your universe. If you say, “I will forgive, because if I don’t, God won’t forgive me”, then you come a little closer to true forgiveness, though standing yet a long way off. At least the common basis of our sinful humanity is recognised - a common need, a ground of sympathy, is acknowledged.
The forgiveness of sins from the heart is a deeper and more profound reality. It is an active love that seeks to restore and perfect. It is a mirroring in us of the Divine Love that has created us and which restores us. Divine forgiveness creates our forgiveness. It takes away all our sins and offences by the transforming power of that active love which yielded itself to the hard wood of the Cross. Christ is our forgiveness who at the moment of his dying, prays “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
“Forgiveness”, writes George MacDonald, “is not love merely, but love conveyed as love to the erring” - love to the unlovely – “so establishing peace with God, and forgiveness towards our neighbour”. Forgiveness is one of the great distinctives of the Christian faith. We cannot not speak of it. What can it mean in the face of conflict and war, in the face of enmity and hatred? It means everything. It means an openness to the transcendent love of God without which our lives are the prisoners to our passions. At the very least, we have to want that peace and reconciliation that ultimately comes from God and let it direct and rule our hearts. It is to be recalled to the ultimate dignity of our humanity which is found in the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. We come to him who has given himself for us. We come to this eucharistic feast that we, too, might know that our sins are forgiven us.
“Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee”
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania