The Family of Forgiveness

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

John 20:21

The disciples don’t make a very glamorous appearance in John’s Easter story. We don’t know precisely when they gathered in fear behind a locked door, but that’s where we find them. I’d love to have some footage from that room as the disciples trickled back in after the arrest in the garden, swapping stories and trying to figure out what their next step would be. Judas was dead, Thomas was missing, but the other 10 are there Easter evening, and they are afraid. We’re told they’re locked in “for fear of the Jews,” but I wonder if there might be some other fear for them as well. Could it be they feared what the resurrection might mean for them?

From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus set forgiveness as a central focus. His plan involved turning the world upside down through a community of radically forgiven, and radically forgiving people. In the prayer he taught his followers, their ability to forgive others was the only thing God’s forgiveness was made contingent upon. The disciples had heard that message endlessly, but look where it had led! I wonder if the disciples saw the cross as the failure of forgiveness?

The only message Mary is told to give the disciples by the risen Jesus is that he is ascending to their shared Father and God. I wonder if that sounded like good news to them? What if Jesus, triumphant over death, was now ready to set forgiveness aside? What if their shared Father was angry with their abandonment of Jesus? What if the failed forgiveness plan was about to be traded in for the Heavenly Retribution approach?

I wonder if they feared the end of forgiveness, because John makes a point of saying that Jesus greets them with the phrase “Peace be with you,” and then after showing him the wounds that tell the cost of his forgiveness, he “said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’” Maybe Jesus, who knew (and knows) the heart of every person, understood they needed reassurance that forgiveness was still the theme of his story.

Jesus then tells them that the next chapters in his forgiveness story would be written by them. 40 times in John’s gospel, Jesus is described as the one sent by the Father. Now he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And their work is forgiveness. And our work is forgiveness! It’s the great challenge that comes with the great joy of Easter.

When people experience those who claim to be Christians holding on to bitterness, resentment, and revenge, they get the message that you have to be perfect to be loved. When they experience radical forgiveness and reconciling love, it points to the fullness of God’s forgiveness. If those who claim Jesus forgive, even when it isn’t “deserved,” maybe the one they call Father and God actually does the same!

That kind of forgiveness always costs something. We always pay a price when we let go of our “right” to vengeance, even if it’s just letting go of a vengeful or bitter spirit in our hearts and minds. Radical forgiveness always costs something, but it’s always worth the price because in granting costly forgiveness we follow in our Savior’s steps.

The cross is not an emblem of the failure of forgiveness, it is the rallying cry for the family of forgiveness. When we feel misunderstood, wronged, unfairly judged, unjustly condemned, we look to the cross and remember that to follow a crucified savior we all must carry crosses of our own. It is the price of turning the world upside down and breaking the endless cycle of death and vengeance!

When we allow the radical forgiveness we’ve received to flow out as radical forgiveness for others, we too become witnesses to the resurrection, declaring the death-defeating power of God now at work in us. In our work of forgiveness we are proclaiming the promise of the Easter message that because he died we are free from yesterday’s shame, because he lives we can face tomorrow!

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