Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-19 (NRSV)
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
"I don't want to meet with them, they are going to tell me I have to forgive and I am not ready for that." She was responding to my invitation to come to a gathering with members of the Amish community of Nickel Mines, PA who had lost children in a school shooting back in 2006. It would be a private gathering filled with very intimate meetings between mothers and fathers, religious leaders, educators, and surviving children who had been traumatized by unspeakable violence in Newtown and in Pennsylvania.
Like this grieving mother, many people tend to have this impression that the Amish just snap their fingers and click their heels and offer forgiveness no matter what. Of course when the day came, and we met some of these Amish families, we discovered that this was not the case. Indeed, they smiled shyly and laughed quietly when we told them that we thought that they were people who forgave at the drop of a hat. "First," said one Amish father, "We are not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't do. Yes, we know that our faith calls us to forgive, but that simply means that we wake up every day knowing that we are called down that path. Some days it feels like we have traveled far, and other days it feels like we are just beginning."
Some have come to see forgiveness as forgetting, as a letting go. I suppose there is something to that notion. But for Christians it is not about just saving ourselves from our own anger, grief, and trauma. On the most intimate and profound level, it is also about the saving of all of creation from the destructive forces of violence, hatred, and injustice. So even while it may be about letting go, forgiveness is never about forgetting, about snapping our fingers, clicking our shoes together, and pretending that nothing happened. Forgiveness is ultimately about restoration and transformation.
Bishop Desmond Tutu put it like this, "Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are…True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing."
What a difficult and holy ministry we are called to live out. As Paul says, "this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." Some days it feels like we have traveled far, and other days it feels like we are just beginning.
Holy and forgiving One, pour out Your grace into every nook and cranny of a divided and broken world and into the cracks within our very souls. May Your merciful love summon from us: an honesty to face hard truths, a compassionate commitment live in the midst of struggle, and a continued faithfulness to to continue our walk along the path of forgiveness and reconciliation - this day and everyday. Amen