The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:14-21
Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate forgiveness Sunday. If you are not familiar with this event, it is one of the most beautiful in all of the life of the Church. We start our Lenten journey by each asking every other person in the community for forgiveness as we offer them kisses on their cheeks. From the least to the greatest, from the oldest to the youngest, we exchange these holy kisses.
Part of being human is understanding that our actions matter. Each and every action we take has an effect on everyone around us. We come together and ask forgiveness of each other because we need the forgiveness of others and we need to forgive others. That is true in your own families and it is true here in the church. We spend quite a bit of time together here. We pray together. We eat and laugh together. We cleanup and serve the Church together.
In the midst of all that, it is easy to get offended with one another. Now is the time to let those things go. A grudge is an excuse. It is a way of saying to yourself “I don’t have to work on myself, because the others around me are the real problem.” A grudge is also a whisper from the demonic. The demons whisper “you have every right to be offended.” They say to us “you have every right to act the way you are acting, and if you acted even worse, it would be completely justified.” This is the way of the demons: They want us to condemn others while we excuse ourselves.
Glory be to Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord. He alone teaches us the true way of life. He does the exact opposite of what the demons would suggest. He is the opposite of selfish. He allows Himself to be condemned, while He excuses all the others. He alone could descend from His throne in order to ascend the cross. He alone could ask for forgiveness while being hung on a cross. Our Lord loves us and proves this love by teaching us to forgive, and then showing us how to really forgive others.
This act of forgiveness is an act of unconditional love. We love poetry and songs about love, but we don’t understand the first thing about love without the image of Jesus on the cross. Perhaps some of you are harboring bad thoughts towards others. Perhaps some of you have withheld your love from those who need it. Don’t be like the demons who only do things for selfish reasons. Be like the angels who do what is right with joy, because God expects it.
In today’s gospel, the Lord gives us one of the great secrets of the universe. In a way of speaking, we hold the keys to our salvation. When we forgive others, we allow ourselves to receive the forgiveness from God. When we release others, God releases us. The Lord shows us how to forgive when it is not convenient to do so. He shows us how to love in a way that doesn’t depend on what others do to me, but rather on what I believe God has done for me. He didn’t wait for me to become perfect before He decided to go to the cross for me. St. Paul tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What an amazing thought. He loved us before there was anything about us worth loving. He loved us while we were still sinners.
It is time to heal. Leave those things in the past. Sometimes you will find that even married couples harbor some bad feelings or resentment of one another. It is like a little cancer that eats away at the relationship slowly. It infects every aspect of the marriage. The signs of this type of resentment will be the rolling of eyes, sarcasm, impatience, rudeness and general lack of joy. If you can’t forgive your spouse (who was joined to you by the Lord), how can you ever forgive others?As the Lord Himself says “[What credit is it to you if you only treat people well, if they treat you well? Even the evil and the ungodly do that]” But God always expects so much more of us because we were baptized as His children. He expects us to forgive others as a sign that we remember just how much we have sinned against Him and just how much He has wiped away our wrongdoing. Truth be told, we would be crushed under the weight of our sins against God if He decided to remember them all. We would be terrified if we had to stand before the judgmement seat of Christ with all our sins. But this is exactly what will happen if we behave like judges and if we remember everything that others may have done to us.
I am so thankful that Christ has wiped away my sins and the best way that I can show that thanksgiving is to wipe away the sins of those who have wronged me. I have to wipe them away from my heart and my mind. Now as we start the Great Fast, I urge you to wipe the slate clean for others as Christ has wiped the slate clean for you. Glory be to God forever AMEN.