I believe it was Alexander Pope who said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
At the heart of the Christian faith stands a crucified God. The God of the universe, the one to creates and sustains all life – dies and breathes his last. The Word became flesh and came to his beloved creation – but the world did not receive him. Instead, the world flogged him, drove nails through him and hung him on a rough wooden cross. Here lies the centre of the Christian faith.
In Luke’s Gospel, as they crucify Jesus and divide his clothes among themselves, Jesus yells out “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they’re doing!” (Luke 23:34).
By anyone’s understanding that moment is breathtakingly beautiful, awe-inspiring and challenging. To be able to forgive your torturers in the midst of unimaginable pain and anguish difficult to comprehend.
What you may not know is that there is another layer to this story (as is often the case with the Bible – as the sixth century St. Gregory described it, the scriptures are shallow enough for a lamb to walk in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in!). On the Jewish Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies – the very centre of the Temple in which God was understood to dwell. There he would sacrifice a goat for the sins of the nation. All that the nation had done wrong, each sin that each Jew had committed, whether intentionally or otherwise, was placed onto the goat. The goat was then killed and the High Priest would say “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing!”
As Jesus hangs on the cross, asking God to forgive, he is both the goat and the High Priest from the Day of Atonement. God dwells there and the sins of the people are forgiven. Not just the sins of the Jewish nation, but the sins of the world. Your sins. My sins.
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As we look at the cross, and see the crucified Jesus announce forgiveness on all, the darkness of the world is truly defeated. The hate of this world is driven out by the self-sacrificial, incomprehensible love of God.
To share one more quote, Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said “Forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” At the cross, Jesus throws open the curtains and unhooks the windows, letting the bright, fresh air of forgiveness into the lives of everyone who will allow him in.
Jesus, our great High Priest and our sacrificial goat, declares forgiveness to us all on the cross. No wonder that call it GOOD Friday!
God bless you all,