Holy Cross, Calgary
Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church. Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love, joy, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I have a very high view of the Eucharist. Many of you who have had opportunities to sit down with me and chat might know that. The Church has historically also had a high view of God’s grace in the Eucharist, while leaving plenty of room for the divine mystery of exactly how Christ is present in the Eucharist. I’m in good company there with my views.
I mention this because I was rather disappointed when I began looking over the readings for this Sunday and realised that despite one of the key Eucharistic texts being appointed as our Gospel Reading, God was calling me to speak on one of the other readings. To speak on the theme of forgiveness.
Really, all our readings point to forgiveness today. David’s lament over the death of his traitorous son Absolom presupposes that David has had some level of forgiveness towards Absolom for his betrayal. The theme of forgiveness is also evidently clear in the Psalmist’s cry to God for redemption from sins. It’s most explicit in St Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians to practice forgiveness. It’s even evident in Christ’s promise of eternal life in the bread of life as a promise of salvation from death which comes through the forgiveness of our sins. Given the clear theme in all our readings today, it’s really no surprise this is where God called me to speak.
The Meaning of Forgiveness
Now, if I say forgiveness, the first thought most people have is probably of accepting the apology of someone who has wronged you. There is a sense of giving up on some negative emotion you have relating to an offence someone has done against you.
That is close to a technical-linguistic definition of forgiveness, but as is often the case, that isn’t completely what the Bible means, and it’s certainly not the extent of what St Paul is getting at in our reading today.
Last week in our Epistle reading, we heard the start of chapter 4 of the epistle to the Ephesians where St Paul has a famous discourse on unity: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism… In the part of the chapter we heard in our reading today, he moves from unity to forgiveness.
We shouldn’t be surprised, as Christians, that a discussion on forgiveness comes from a discussion on unity. Unity is a central concept in Christianity, because it is the goal of creation and the consequence of Christ’s reconciling work in the world. We were created to be in unity with God. Through the Fall, through the disobedience of sin, we have fallen away from that. Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, death and resurrection all point towards a restoration of that unity which was lost in the Fall.
And it’s not just about a restoration of vertical unity, which is to say the relationship between the creator and the created, but it is also a horizontal restoration. Freedom from sin is what allows us, as the body of believers, to be more and more united with each other. To truly be a community.
Forgiveness is needed to be reconciled with God. Sin is by nature affront and injury to God. Unity with God is impossible while these offences remain unforgiven. And so, through the Cross of Christ, and through no merit of our own, we are given the possibility of the forgiveness of our sins.
This forgiveness is not about God feeling a little bit better about how we affronted him. It isn’t about marking a debt paid. It’s about deleting it from the ledger. In the Psalms, we’re told, “Look how wide also the east is from the west, so far hath he set our sins from us.” There is an infinite distance between us and our sins.
That is the type of forgiveness God models to us. That is the type of forgiveness St Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus to live out. That is the forgiveness we are called to today.
Thinking secularly, psychology tells us that the greatest positive impact of forgiveness is in removing the power of an offence over you. If someone insults me and I refuse to forgive them that insult, the insult holds power over me. If I forgive them, the insult becomes meaningless. The reverse can also be true. If I have offended against someone else, and they forgive me, it releases the power that offence had over me.
But I think for many of us, we would see a much deeper spiritual component to this. St John Chrysostom argued that forgiveness is inherently spiritual saying that, “One who forgives does good both to his own soul and to that of the one who has received forgiveness.” If a neighbour sins against me, their sin’s power over me is removed by my forgiveness of them. Thinking more deeply still, when God forgives me for an offence I have made against him, I, as the one forgiven, can also feel the weight of sin removed, and I receive spiritual grace from that forgiveness.
Forgive Others as God has Forgiven You
That’s all fine and good, but even I recognize that I’ve given an entirely abstract discussion of forgiveness. It’s good to know what St Paul means by forgiveness, but really, so what? What do we do with this?
St Paul concludes this passage with an exhortation that the Ephesians should be, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” This, says CS Lewis, is at the heart of the Christian faith: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
This isn’t about saying we must forgive others as some kind of precondition for receiving forgiveness. It is about remembering the fullness of forgiveness. It is about remembering what Christ has done for us on the cross. The forgiveness of your sins was bought by the precious blood of Christ. We are called to forgive others in the fullness of how God has forgiven us. More than that, God gives us grace in the forgiveness he provides us. Freed from our sins, liberated from the bondage of our offences, we are given grace to forgive others in the fullness of God’s forgiveness of us and to live out the lives St Paul describes in this letter.
He tells the Ephesians that they are Christians and must live like it, and not like they did before. Our passage today begins with a discussion of the consequences of his previous command to the Ephesians to put on their new selves in Christ, given in Baptism. It’s not enough, says St Paul, simply to stop being greedy or lustful. It’s not enough to give up on “bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” because God doesn’t just want you to stop sinning but truly wants you to be reconciled to himself, and that true reconciliation involves a new lifestyle.
St John Chrysostom uses the analogy of the garden, asking, “what good it is to weed a garden if we do not plant good seed?” That is the beauty of God’s forgiveness. In his forgiveness there is grace: grace to sow seeds of good living. Good habits and dispositions that replace the old, sinful ones.
Giving Thanks for Forgiveness
When we begin to understand this fuller definition of forgiveness, we can begin to understand the significance of forgiveness in the Christian life and its connection to thanksgiving.
As we have seen it today, we explored the idea of forgiveness of sins leading to life, and that the forgiveness of our sins is through Christ. In that we receive grace to forgive others around us, as part of what it means to be forgiven by God.
It is in the fullness of that forgiveness that we are asked, “how could we not give thanks?”
At the end of our reading today, St Paul exhorts the Ephesians saying, “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” His sacrifice was the breaking of his body and the spilling of his blood, which he commanded us to participate in through the Eucharist. Our sacrifice is a living sacrifice: the giving of ourselves, our souls and bodies in service and friendship to God in Christ.
Forgiveness becomes not something done begrudgingly, but something done joyfully in celebration. Think perhaps of the parable of the Prodigal Son and how after the son who had insulted his father and his family, wasted his inheritance and returned as a beggar was greeted in joy by his father before he could even apologize, and his father commanded a feast to be held. It is the thanksgiving that we are called to model in our forgiveness as well.
Moments from now, we will be making our confessions. We will seek to reconcile ourselves to God and neighbour, and we will then humbly, recognizing our own unworthiness but our worthiness in Christ alone, approach the altar of thanksgiving to receive true Thanksgiving. The grace of God to live holy and righteous lives, to live lives in unity with God and neighbour. To live lives of charity.
I said I wanted to speak today about forgiveness and thanksgiving, but in both cases what I’m really talking about is God’s grace. It is only natural then that I shift towards the practicality of the Eucharist.
Sometimes I feel something very profound when I receive the Eucharist. Other times I do not. But either way, I approach in complete assurance that Christ’s forgiveness and grace is offered to me in the Bread and Wine of life, so that strengthened in it, I may present my life to God as a “reasonable, holy and living sacrifice,” and to live out the life God has called me to.
Before I approach the altar to receive, I will often take a moment to pray. It’s harder to do when you’re up at the front, as I often am, but it’s far easier if you’re a good Anglican sitting at the back of the Church because you’ve got a bit of time before you’re up before the rail. When possible though, before going to receive, I try to think of something specific to pray for. Some place in my life I need God’s grace. Some specific thing that was challenging my Christian walk. A place I need forgiveness, or God’s grace to forgive others. Then pray a simple prayer: “Lord Jesus, as I receive you in the Sacrament, please give me grace to…”
Dear friends in Christ, we are called the banquet of the lamb. It is a feast in which the Father has offered to us the true sacrifice of his Son. We are called to receive this sign and sacrament of grace and reconciliation. By this banquet, our sins are washed away. By this banquet, we are nourished by grace which satisfies every spiritual hunger and need.
May we feast with the Lord in his forgiveness, forgiving those after his example, and plant in our own lives those spiritual seeds of good habits and healthy dispositions as we give thanks for the grace he has offered to us.
Thanks be to God.
 Rm vi. 23
 Eph iv. 1-16
 Ps ciii. 12
 St John Chrysostom, Homily on Eph., 16.4.32-33
 Eph iv. 32
 CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 8.6 (p 182)
 Eph iv. 24
 Eph iv. 19, 22
 Eph iv. 31
 St John Chrysostom, Homily on Eph., 16.4.31-32
 Eph v. 1-2
 I Cor x. 16
 St Lk xv. 16-17
 Rm 12.1 & BCP 85
 Allusion to Isa lv. 1-3