Lent Devotions: The turn to forgiveness

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).      

Rev. Dr. Jana Childers  

Luke 23:1-49

TriduumToday we enter Act Two of the (“The Great Three Days”), which liturgical scholars describe as “a single liturgy in three acts.” In these three days — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil — all the mysteries of Christ are celebrated.

The question of how they are celebrated is an interesting one. I am not much for the historical re-enactment of these mysteries. Whether it is the gore of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ or the literal-ness (in the theatre it’s called verisimilitude) of Oberammergau’s pageantry, I think historical re-enactments do a dis-service to the cross — a cosmic event which carries in its bosom matters of ultimacy.

Literal re-enactments are almost always too small, too flat, to do justice to Act Two.

Take, for example, the ultimate ultimacy of forgiveness. Surely if anything deserves to be captured in a re-enactment of the crucifixion story it is the radical forgiveness that is at the very heart of the gospel. If Act Two is going to be successful in showing us anything, it should be that. Where is forgiveness visible in the crucifixion story? In a cinematic close-up of Jesus’ wounds? In his glazed but sympathetic eyes? In his brave wince as he prays for those “who know not what they do?”

No, historical re-enactments fall short of showing us the mysteries. For that, we need the great hymns of the church, the bittersweet gospel songs, the poet’s metaphors, the preacher’s whoop. We need the sacraments. We need the grace of God which opens us. We need that mystical union with Christ which fuels us and imparts to us all the benefits of Christ. Especially the ultimate benefit. The ability to forgive.

As it turns out, there is a way to make forgiveness visible. Forgiveness is made real in you…every time you forgive. You and your acts of forgiveness are more than bit players in Act Three. In you and your acts of forgiveness are the mysteries of the cross enacted and celebrated.

Rev. Dr. Jana Childers is dean and professor of homiletics and speech communication at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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