Thursday night, I once again had the privledge of preaching and assisting in Maundy Thursday worship. This particular congregation has the practice of individual absolution after the confessions. For those of you who are unfamilar with the practice, after the coporate confession and proclamation of forgiveness, the congregation is invited to come to the front, where they can receive an individual announcement of forgiveness. The pastor (and assistant - in this case, me) make the sign of the cross on an individual's forehead and say, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven."
My husband and daughter were in the congregation. They were on the side where the pastor stood, and I fully expected them to stay in that line. I figured it might be a bit more meaningful for them to hear those words of forgiveness from someone other than "Mom." So I was a bit surprised when they switched to my side. So I looked into my 18 year old daughter's eyes, and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven." Then I looked into my husband's eyes, and said again, "In the name of Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven."
I didn't realized the full impact of that declaration until this morning.
This morning, I was thinking over the last two day's worship. About the beautiful, mournful music of the choir and the Passion readings last night. About how there is just something extra special about communion on Maundy Thursday. About how, although we know our sins are forgiven, it is so reassuring to occasionally hear some tell your personally, you are forgiven. I realized that Pastor Tim and I neglected to declare each other's sins forgiven (oops!). I thought about seeing my daughter standing in front of me as I pronounced absolution. And then it hit me.
I had declared ALL her sins forgiven - including those things I secretly held on to. You know how it is. There are those things that the people closest to you do that annoy you, that anger you. The usual friction between people who live closely together, and the big blowups that families sometimes have. Those things that, although verbally forgiven, still silently lurk in the back of your mind - that you cannot or will not let go. All those times you know you were the wronged party, but for the sake of family unity you try to bury but just can't quite let go of.
Ok, now I have a problem If I am going to stand in the front of the sancturary and declare to my daughter all her sins are forgiven, then I also have to follow Jesus' example and forgive - truly forgive and let go - all those things past hurts and dissapointments, all the snarky comments, all the frustrating and exasperating acts that a teenage daughter comes up with in the coming-of-age battle with her mother.
Oops. Did I mean to do that?
It's certainly one thing to tell someone that Jesus forgives them. That's the easy part. But then it gets personal. Because if you tell someone that Jesus forgives them, you are also telling them that you forgive them. Suddenly Matthew 5: 23-24 has a more immediate meaning: “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."
So now I have no excuse, no justification to hold on to any of those past things. But you know, as hard as it is for us to let go of all those times we were wronged, it's also healthy for us to do so.
And it makes me wonder what would happen if instead of having the pastor-types announce absolution, the people in the pews turned to each other and said, "In the name of Jesus, all your sins are forgiven?" Spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend. What if the person standing next to you that evening was someone with whom you were arguing about some church matter? Could you say those words, and not hear Jesus whisper forgiveness to your heart?