At Easter, forgive - and be forgiven
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
These were the words of a convicted criminal as he hung dying on a cross next to Jesus on the first Good Friday.
The Roman Empire was adept at carrying out executions to deter its subjects from rising up against its imperialist yoke. It is a gory scene, but not one alien to our world today, as we, too, have witnessed executions that occur around the world — on the streets of Bucha during the war in Ukraine, or from Saudi Arabia recently in a more clinical way.
In Bermuda, we have had the spectre of young men recently gunned down and a spike in knife violence, not to mention too many deaths on the roads and, yes, more Covid-related deaths.
“Remember me”, was the cry of the dying man. He no doubt saw beyond the nails and the bleeding brow of the man hanging next to him. He has seen how Jesus looked out with compassion upon His executioners, and the angry cries and mocking taunts of the crowd, and spoke a prayer as He looked down upon them: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!”
Perhaps he saw Jesus tenderly making sure that his anguished and watching mother would be cared for in the new family that he was establishing. Perhaps he had heard Jesus preach or seen one of his miracles. Whatever it was, he saw not a dying fellow criminal, but someone for whom death had no legitimate hold.
He knew Jesus was innocent — he said so himself — but he had an inkling that this was not the last they would see of Him; nor was it the last thing that Jesus would do. Through the veil of Jesus’s own blood and pain, He looked up to the thief and pronounced: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
We know now that this promise was true when on the third day after Jesus himself breathed his last, God raised Him — to be seen and touched by many — alive, changed and able to bring all who cry out to Him to be with Him in paradise!
His followers were thereafter forever changed to turn their world upside down, not through philosophy or force, but the resurrection power of lives changed and lived in service of God and humankind full of the joy of the Lord — set free from their fears to be their better selves.
There is another answer to anger, fear, darkness and confusion in our world than retribution or despair. It is to know the God of love, light and forgiveness that we see on that cross — to experience the power of a new beginning as we come to our risen saviour.
His death and resurrection give us hope for reconciliation with God. It breaks down the barriers vertically and enables us to break down the barriers horizontally. Easter, with its hot cross buns, cruciform kites and wonderful springtime chocolatey treats — coming as our island is full of the buds of flowering spring and the trumpeting heads of Easter lilies — is so full of life and meaning that we need to grasp as individuals and as a community.
It wipes away the fear of meaninglessness, of guilt and of death itself. But it comes with a challenge: to live as Easter people. Striving to enter the world of pain and darkness fully, emptying ourselves of our pride and humbly serving one another and bringing God’s peace and love to those hurting souls all around us.
We need to forgive and be forgiven. God has done it for us — and so must we. We need reconciling and uniting, to be thankful for our blessings and to be a blessing to one another.
We need to remember where we have come from, where — by God’s grace — we are going, who we are in His sight and who those around us also are. We may not experience paradise this side of heaven, but in this beautiful island we are close — and all the more so if we decide to live as Easter people.
When we struggle to love and forgive and serve, we must pray that the risen Jesus would give us the power that He showed in his life.
May God bless you all this Easter with a renewed joy and faith and hope and fill your hearts and homes with love.
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