From the heart
Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Unless you forgive one another from your heart, warned Jesus, you will experience all the anguish and separation of imprisonment [Matt. 14]. This echoes the central petition of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’
When we pray this we are asking for a radical movement of the heart to spend itself in forgiving. In this letting go of hurts and resentments we can let go of the past and enter into the eternal rest, which is the heart of the God of love. ‘Forgiveness from the heart’ is what creates the kingdom of God among us. To hang on to anger and dissension is to make a work place for our spiritual enemy. Nothing is more vital in the spiritual life than to be forgiving. This is something that we ought to bear in mind at such a divisive time in our Church’s life.
This is hard work. It demands great courage to open our heart to the unforgiven. It demands patience to really get to the bottom of those events and memories that lie hidden and
buried. It makes us feel very vulnerable to cast away old resentments that have done so much to feed our will or drive our ambition.
Once we embark on this work of heart we become utterly dependent on Grace. Our understanding of, and thankfulness for, the forgiving love of God in Jesus deepens as we realize how little we have shared it with others.
Once we have kicked away the hurts and prejudices on which so much of our life is built we can only stand on Christ the sure foundation. Once we have come to this way of being, the petition of the
Lord’s Prayer takes on a new urgency: ‘forgive us…as we forgive.’
This is the way of the cross, the source of all forgiveness. In the love that fixed Jesus to the cross is found the courage and vulnerability that is the fulcrum on which forgiveness turns in the heart. In each eucharist we are always reminded that it ‘was on the night that he was betrayed he took bread.’ The eucharist is the pledge of forgiveness that crosses the chasms that bitterness and misunderstanding open up between people.
The exchange of the sign of peace before Holy Communion is another reminder that we are commissioned to share the peace of Christ and be willing to receive it from others. The terrible truth is that in being unforgiving we set ourselves up as judge and jury and in the process wound the body of Christ afresh. Because we are commanded to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ we have no choice but to practise forgiveness that we might know the service that is perfect freedom.