Candles flicker. Lights are dim. The fragrance of incense hangs in the air. And my priest bows…TO ME. “Forgive me, a sinner.” The humble dignity of this moment is too much for me.
“The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love.”
A father kneels before his young daughter, standing next to me. “Forgive me, a sinner.” “God forgives you, and I forgive you.” They embrace. I realize I have forgotten to breathe.
Across the room, I see one sister stand before the other. I can’t hear the words, but I know what they are saying. I don’t know the stories each of them carries of the other…the hurts, large and small, known and unknown. But the radiance in their faces as they hold one another, and as smiles turn to sweet laughter, say that the slate is clean…that all is as it should be.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” ~Jesus (Matthew 6)
My dear friend stands before me. I think of all the ways I have failed her…all the ways I wish I had been a better friend. “Forgive me a sinner.” It feels so small…so simple. Her eyes tell me all was forgiven before I even asked.
My Tuesday morning Bible study ladies… As I approach each of them, I think of the prayers, the laughter, the tears, and the truth we have shared. I am honored to bow before them. They are my heroes. “Forgive me…”
This evening’s Vespers ushered us into the Orthodox Lenten season. It happened before our eyes. The priests and deacons changed their outer garments to purple, and precious little girls put purple cloths under the icons. The tones of the hymns became somber. We were reminded that just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, we are exiles. We are far from Home.
But we are journeying. Together. Toward the Kingdom. Toward Home. We begin…clean. Tonight, in one of the most moving services I have ever been part of, each person in the church bowed before every other person, one by one, and said, “Forgive me, a sinner.”
Who could know all the stories that lay under those words? The hurt feelings, suspicions, misunderstandings… But tonight, we humbled ourselves and proclaimed, one to another, I am sorry for my sinfulness. I am sorry that I hurt you. Please, forgive me.
It was astonishingly beautiful. I couldn’t stop weeping. I thought of how my heart grieves when my children hurt one another, and how sweet it is to see them reconciled. I imagined God looking down upon so many of his children tonight as they were reconciled. His heart must be glad.
“I pray for them…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~Jesus (John 17)
We closed the evening singing a Paschal hymn. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” We sang it in hushed voices, knowing there is yet a long, treacherous journey ahead of us. But the words fill us with hope.
I want to travel unencumbered by unsettled business. I am asking myself, “Where are the other relationships in my life where I need to ask forgiveness? And who have I not forgiven?” Forgiveness is a gift I can choose to give, even to someone who has not asked for it.
How about you? Is there a name that has already popped into your head? Someone with whom you need to have a difficult conversation? Today.