We've had a complicated and difficult year, says Bishop Hughes, and while vaccines are bringing us greater freedom and a sense of hopefulness, there is also anger and frustration. As we move forward, she asks us, who do you need to forgive? And who do you need to ask for forgiveness? (Time: 5:01.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. We are still in Eastertide, that time of year when we think intentionally about resurrection and the way that resurrection changes everything for us as Christians. And one of the particular ways resurrection changes everything for us is in the area of forgiveness. Not ever again are we separated from the love of God – Jesus took care of that by going to the cross, dying and rising again. We are forever through Jesus connected back to God, no matter what we have done, no matter how many mistakes we have made.
I think it’s important for us to remember resurrection as we continue in this transition period coming out of pandemic. I don’t know how long this transition will last – like at the beginning of pandemic, I had no idea how long that would last, would it be weeks, months, a year or more? I say the same thing this time: will it be weeks, months, a year? I do not know, time will tell. But one of the things that seems certain in this time, a time that has been characterized in many ways by the great joy of having vaccinations and the freedom that has given us and a sense of hopefulness about that. And yet, at the same time, we hear this incredible sense of anger and frustration, contempt and judgement coming from all quarters, even coming from ourselves – perhaps in our own households, perhaps we’ve been using language that is angry, frustrated, contemptuous and judgmental of others or we’ve had it leveled against us. It’s made a time that should be joyous quite complicated and we’ve had a very complicated and difficult year already.
So I want to offer this to all of us: we can’t necessarily take care of what is going on with everybody else but we can take care of what is happening for us. So I offer these questions to you to ask yourselves each day: Who is it that you need to forgive? And I’m keenly aware of what Jesus told us: do we need to forgive one time or seven times? And Jesus said seventy times seven, as many times as it takes. So not only who is it that you need to forgive but who do you need to forgive multiple times?
And then there is the flip side of that question: who do you need to go to and ask for their forgiveness? And who do you need to go to and ask for their forgiveness multiple times? We are not meant to sit trapped by this sinfulness, this judgment of each other, this anger at each other, this hard-heartedness with each other. But they are real responses to hard and terrible conversations and invective that has been hurled either by us or at us.
I am reminded when I ask those questions of the Reconciliation of a Penitent, the service of confession in our Book of Common Prayer. You can find it on page 447. It starts with these simple words: I as the penitent come forward or you as the penitent come forward to the person that we’re going to talk with about our sinfulness and we say, “Bless me for I have sinned.” But there’s a blessing just in saying those words. And then the priest or the person who we are talking with has some words that they say to us, a prayer, and then we offer what we want to confess. They make no judgments but they offer absolution. And at the end of absolution, they say something that is so incredibly lovely and comforting: “The Lord has put away your sins.”
I wonder how many of us could use that freedom, of knowing that the Lord has put away our sins. It’s something to think about as we continue on through this particular time of pandemic, this particular phase of pandemic, to know that while vaccines bring us freedom, Jesus and resurrection bring us a completely different freedom that is priceless to us right now.