Thursday, March 24, 2016
Absolution - So How Long Does Forgiveness Last?
The following is an item written by my pastor, Pr. Kevin Martin, for a recent monthly newsletter. I thought it was a really good response to the question many have when it comes to Holy Absolution.
A church member asked me recently: “Pastor, after you pronounce absolution in the divine service, uhm… how long does… the ah, forgiveness last?” I thought that was a great question and I also thought there might be others who’ve wondered the same thing but were afraid to ask. It lasts forever! That’s the short answer. But the (only slightly) longer answer is even stranger and better…
All our sins were forgiven, all people’s everywhere for all time when Jesus died on a cross outside Jerusalem, April 6, 30 AD, 3 pm. Whether they know it or not. Whether they want to be forgiven or not. We all are and were forgiven completely on Good Friday (which we recently celebrated). Easter Sunday (while it is the larger day, festival-wise) is actually the icing on the cake, the results of what Jesus won in the darkness of that terrible Friday afternoon. But that’s what (Who!) did it: Jesus forgave the world’s sin by dying in our place that Great Friday. And the great thing about that death of His that day is that it didn’t just forgive sins people were committing then. His death reached back, the previous week, previous month, previous year, previous century, previous millennia, reached back all the way into the distant past, all the way to another garden, where Adam and Eve had just eaten an apple and had lost a great deal. That original sin was forgiven that Friday afternoon by Jesus too. And His forgiveness reached for-ward, centuries ahead, to cover over your sins and mine. It reaches forward to cover everyone’s sins who will ever live until that day when He returns in glory and there is no need for anymore forgiveness. Jesus’ death covers and forgives all sins, of all people of all times and places. Always.
So what happens at the beginning of the communion service when the pastor stands up, (after we confess that we are poor, miserable sinners) and says “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins.”? If Jesus won forgiveness for all of us for all time, what’s up with that? Well, it’s the Department of Redundancy Department (sort of). Jesus, through His servants, is doing the forgiving thing all over again, or more exactly applying the effects of that forgiveness like a fresh coat of paint on a peeling and cracked wall.
Why? Because we are people of little faith. Because our sins keep coming back to haunt us like Scrooge’s ghosts (only not so kind-hearted!). We keep seeing the stain re-appearing on that wall we thought we’d painted and made sparkling white. Here’s where it gets a little weird (a little sci-fi): the wall (us!) really is sparkling white. There are no cracks, no peeling paint. Jesus’ death has made us just like Him, pure and holy. But instead of just telling us we are fine, pure and clean, and demand we believe it better, because we really do see and feel the stains, the damage, and so do our neighbors, Jesus repairs the damage we perceive all over again just as He did that Friday afternoon in the 1st century in Jerusalem. Another coat of paint on the wall, another wrapping in the robes of His righteousness. The death of Christ really was the end of the world and the beginning of a new age, a new time. But faith is required to live in that new world, that new time, and when faith falters, even a little bit, so do the good effects of Jesus’ death—from our perspective at least.
So Jesus keeps fixing the unbroken wheel—the wheel of our bodies and souls, because to us it is bent and out of round, really broken, even though it was repaired perfectly even before we were born or even did the damage. We simply have trouble living into the life Christ gives, living as we truly are in Him. This is the mission of Christ He carries out through His holy, catholic, orthodox, and apostolic church: He continually continues, by the forgiveness of sin, to make us over in His image; He makes us grow up into His image, to become true human beings at Last.
Our lack of faith keeps us from seeing this, experiencing this, living this. So the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, Holy Preaching, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion continually makes right all that we get wrong, really, truly, physically, eternally, spiritually, ontologically, and metaphysically. Because we need it. Because we live in a fog of unbelief that clouds everything. At His Return in Glory, we will see Him as He is and so be like Him and will never have need of any more “touch-ups”. Till then, Jesus doesn’t mind forgiving what He’s already redeemed, over and over 70 times 7, times 7 times 7 times… well, you get the picture.
So when I tell you this Sunday: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins” that will last forever. Even when you walk out of church and bark at your wife, it’s already been “pre-forgiven” if you will. You’re good (and so is she, though if you tell her and show her how good and lovely she really is, life will be better for both of you, I would judge). But because you will have trouble believing that, because other sins will mount up, we’ll see each other again next week and go over it all again, until one Day, the Last and Great Day, Jesus will show up and real Life will begin in earnest…
- Pr. Kevin Martin
Our Savior Lutheran Church (Raleigh, NC)