Also Witnesses: Living in the Power of Forgiveness

Luke 24:36b-48

Not long ago I saw first hand how forgiveness can make all the difference. The sort of forgiveness which is the very heart of Jesus’ sending words for the disciples and for all of us today.  But first, pause with me in the story itself…

For it is so that we find ourselves standing among the first followers of Jesus again today. It is but a few days after the crucifixion and just moments after they have learned that, at least according to some, death had not had the last word after all.  And yet, no matter that they have received the witness of others asserting the truth of what is standing before them now,  to actually lay eyes on him and to hear his voice, surely must have taken their collective breath away.

  • Indeed, could there have been another sound in the room as Jesus challenges their fear, their doubt, and invites them to take a closer look at his hands and his feet?
  • How many of them must have scrambled to be the one to serve him that piece of broiled fish?
  • And how amazing must it have been to then have all the pieces come together as Jesus opened up their minds to understand the ways in which God had always worked and was working even then?

Oh, I would have been tempted to stay right there in that wondrous hour. I expect part of me would have pushed back against the suggestion that this was not all there was. Yet, Jesus does not leave them there. And he certainly does not intend for us to stay there either. For you can’t miss him leaning into the future even in the midst of this hour. It would be theirs (and ours as well) to be those who would tell the whole wide world about the power of repentance and the incomparable gift of the forgiveness of sins.  For they were those who had seen it all, experienced it all. ‘They were witnesses of these things…’  As are we. And yet I can’t help but wonder…

  • What if they had all simply gone home after the truth of this living legacy had claimed them?
  • What if they had chalked up those last few years as a meaningful diversion in the midst of their lives, but failed to see the import of all of it and their place in sharing this unparalleled gift with all the world?
  • What if they experienced the power of the forgiveness of Jesus — as they did even in his greeting of Peace now — Peace which stood in the place of their own doubt, their own fear, their own denial and abandonment of Jesus in his last hours.
  • What if they had experienced this wondrous gift and then tucked it away as a warm memory to be returned to in their own dark hours, but never took the next step in terms of exploring what it meant for their lives in the world? Or fir the life of the world?
  • Indeed, what if they had received their identity as ‘witnesses’ but then never actually ‘witnessed’ to all they had seen and heard?

What if, indeed?

And what if, for you and me?

Here is how it was. A few weeks back I was called to the hospital to visit a woman in her last days.  Her family had requested a Lutheran pastor… resulting, no doubt, from some leftover memory of a faith once practiced. I kept vigil with her sons and daughter off and on over the next few days. When she died, I was called upon to do the funeral.

As we sat together planning her funeral, Sue’s (and yes, I’ve changed her name to protect their privacy) children spoke of cleaning out her small apartment. They told of how much of what she had was without value — sentimental or otherwise. Most of it was carried outside to the dumpster that stands on the edge of the parking lot. It was as they were about to leave after one last load that they were met by an old woman. When she asked if they had need of what was being discarded, they assured her that she was welcome to whatever she wanted. In particular she asked about the single bed which had been part of their last trip, for apparently she had no bed to call her own. As this was shared, Sue’s older son said with conviction, “I think this is what I will do in Mom’s memory. I’ll get my hands on some beds and give them away to whoever needs them!”

Here is the back story though. In the time we shared over those several days, Sue’s children were honest about the hard life their mother had led. They spoke the truth that though, by then, she was long in recovery, her alcoholism had been hard on them, leaving wounds not yet quite fully healed.

They showed up when she was dying, though. They made sure she knew they were there. Without complaint, they cleaned out her meager possessions and stood strong for each other when it was needed. To be sure, by the time we met a few weeks back, they were well on their way to giving and receiving forgiveness — the very sort of forgiveness Jesus speaks of today —  and that forgiveness was opening up ways for them to think about carrying on the gift she was. And soon, I expect, some folks who do not otherwise have a proper place to sleep, will have beds to call their own. Without the powerful gift of forgiveness, I doubt this would have been possible. Indeed, by doing what they could to ensure that others might be tangibly blessed by the memory of their mother, Sue’s children will literally bear witness to the power of forgiveness…

Indeed, is it any wonder that in a world too often held hostage to its brokenness by our unwillingness to repent and our even more stubborn resistance to give and receive forgiveness, Jesus says:

Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations… (Luke 24:46-47)

And you and I? We are witnesses as well. As we stand with the disciples so long ago and as we see the wonder of the life-giving power of this every single day.

So now what?

  • How shall we live as the witnesses we are also called to be?
  • How shall we share this gift of forgiveness in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our congregations, in our communities?
  • The story I offer above is one of generosity rooted in forgiveness. Can you think of others where remarkable gifts were shared simply BECAUSE people were able to forgive?

Oh, what might it look like if this were all we were called to do from here on out — to forgive and be forgiven and to tell the stories of the difference such precious forgiveness made? How would that change what your faith in Jesus calls you to be and do? For this is, in fact, all and everything that Jesus called the disciples to do. Why should it be any different for you and me?