SERMON at Forgiveness Sunday Vespers
21st February 1999
We have come to the threshold of Lent. We are starting to move along a road that will lead us to Golgotha, to Calvary; so that one day, at the end of Lent, we will find ourselves standing before Christ crucified – crucified for our own sake, for the sake of each of us. We are starting on a journey that must end with God being able to forgive us, and to say, 'Go in peace'. But to achieve this we must begin to forgive one another.
To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened between us, but to shoulder the weight of another person's frailty, or at times of another person's evil. St. Paul says, 'Learn to carry one another's burdens.' And these burdens are very often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling; our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. And so let us, each of us, pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life; judge ourselves justly and honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God – this in a sense seems to us so often much easier than to ask forgiveness from our neighbour. But let us ask forgiveness from those whom we have offended in one way or another, but also from all those to whom we have not been a help on their journey to God. We are all frail, we are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship?
Let us turn to each of those who will meet us face to face today, and when they say 'forgive' let us ask ourselves, 'What have I got to be forgiven for?' and bow down before the other person and respond in the same way, because who of us has been for others a light on his way to God, a support at moments of frailty?
Let us begin now our road to Calvary, so that when we stand face to face with Christ we should not be like those in the crowd, who hoped that Christ would come down from the cross and that it would be easy to be His disciples. Let us not stand in the crowd otherwise than the Mother of God and St. John. And let us not find good reasons not to forgive.
I remember a man who said to me, 'I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I hate the enemies of God.' And I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, 'Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner.'
Is that our attitude to each other? Is that our attitude to the vast world, so tragic, so evil, and so full of pain in its search for completeness, for fullness? God will forgive it – and let ourselves forgive one another. And remember, that if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded, because if we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.
Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed; but also that we may be healed ourselves. Let us pray now together, with one soul, with one mind; and when we come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us. Amen.