Last week, my daughter, Lydia, and I were visiting one of my brothers and his wife in Charleston, SC. I am a lover of history and of historical buildings, so while we were wandering for several days about the historic district of Charleston, I found myself drawn to this very old church. This Anglican congregation formed in 1680, and though the church's building has been rebuilt several times, due to hurricane and fire damage, this building was built in 1835. The Anglican Church or Church of England, (here in the U.S., the Episcopal Church), is the church of my childhood roots. My grandparents on my father's side helped found the Episcopal Church in Pinedale, Wyoming in the 1950's; from birth through 12th grade, in whichever of the many states we lived, I and my family attended the Episcopal Church. Services in an Anglican or Episcopal Church are just slightly less liturgical than the Catholic Church, so all of the services for the major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are filled with much majesty and grandeur. Easter services in St. Philip's would certainly feel very majestic and grand in such a wonderful building.
Easter is fast approaching this week and, it could be argued, is the grandest of all our celebrations. For it is through the obedience of Jesus in the crucifixion and His death on the cross on Good Friday, then His subsequent resurrection on Easter morning that we are able to receive salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. Are we as excited for it as we are for Christmas? Easter is the foundation for Christmas, as is Good Friday. As it was told to Joseph, Jesus' purpose in coming as a child was for our salvation and forgiveness,
"...an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus (which means Savior or the Lord is salvation) because He will save His people from their sins.” Matt. 1:20-21
Jesus fulfilled His purpose in coming through His obedience on Good Friday and on Easter, God the Father raised Him from the dead to secure the possibility of our salvation, the Gospel, the really good news: we can be forgiven! But did Jesus really have to die? Yes, He had to pay a debt we can't pay ourselves, no matter how much we do, love, give, share...we can't do it...we can't pay for our sins. (Yes, we do have sins and they need to be forgiven, and no re-defining of what the Lord says is sin will change that fact...but that is for another blog post...) God, in His great love and mercy, gave His one and only Son, so that we might be forgiven and truly live, in this life and in the one to come. All that is required is for us to repent and believe in Jesus, and receive the forgiveness He offers.
"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.' ...Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.'
Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' " Luke 7:36-48
In his commentary on the passage, Matthew Henry says: "Luke 7:36-50 None can truly perceive how precious Christ is, and the glory of the gospel, except the broken-hearted. But while they feel they cannot enough express self-abhorrence on account of sin, and admiration of his mercy, the self-sufficient will be disgusted, because the gospel encourages such repenting sinners. The Pharisee, instead of rejoicing in the tokens of the woman's repentance, confined his thoughts to her former bad character. But without free forgiveness none of us can escape the wrath to come; this our gracious Saviour has purchased with his blood, that he may freely bestow it on every one that believes in him. Christ, by a parable, forced Simon (the Pharisee) to acknowledge that the greater sinner this woman had been, the greater love she ought to show to Him when her sins were pardoned. Learn here, that sin is a debt; and all are sinners, are debtors to Almighty God."
When we know the depths of our own depravity, sinfulness, and then receive the forgiveness of the Lord in repentance, we are filled with a love, a grace, a mercy that can't be fully explained. We know that we know we are forgiven and we don't deserve it. In my times of both public and private sin, when I fully came to the Lord in confession and repentance, I received a forgiveness that was tangible, not to be forgotten. After a public confession, the ones who were most loving and forgiving to me were the ones who themselves had a true awareness of their own sin, either public or private, and had received that same forgiveness. Once we have received that forgiveness from the Lord, how can we withhold it from others?
The world is full of those who will tell us that we have a right, yes, even a need to be offended and to stay that way or we aren't really standing up for or identifying with others and their offense, real or perceived. The Pharisee was truly offended at this woman's known sin. By "rights", he was acting the way he thought he should or as he had been told to treat those who offended him and his perception of the law of God. But Jesus showed us a different way. He said those who are forgiven much will love much. He forgave the many sins of the woman; He forgives our many sins, if we but come to Him.
Oswald Chambers, in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, says in the February 3 entry, "When a moral person is confronted with contempt, immorality, disloyalty, or dishonesty, he is so repulsed by the offense that he turns away and in despair, closes his heart to the offender. But the miracle of the redemptive reality of God is that the worst and vilest offender can never exhaust the depths of His love." In the February 23 entry, he states, "Paul's understanding of how Christ had dealt with him is the secret behind his determination to serve others. 'I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man...' (I Tim. 1:13) In other words, no matter how badly others may have treated Paul, they could never have treated him with the same degree of spite and hatred with which he had treated Jesus Christ. Once we realize that Jesus has served us even to the depths of our meagerness, our selfishness, and our sin, nothing we encounter from others will be able to exhaust our determination to serve others for His sake."
As I walked around historic Charleston, through the centuries' old graveyards, I thought of all of the people who have lived there from the 1600's until now. St. Philip's Anglican Church is literally down the street from the major slave trade market site in the U.S. I thought of all of the forgiveness that has gone on and still has to go on in that town, in this country. I remembered the forgiving reaction victims' family members had to the young man who committed the murders in the church just a few years ago, as stated in the Washington Post on June 19 2015,
"The relatives of people slain inside the historic African Methodist Episcopal American church in Charleston, S.C., earlier this week were able to speak directly to the accused gunman Friday at his first court appearance.
One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses."
The Lord showed me during my time of restoration and reconciliation that I am to live a life of forgiveness, both receiving it and giving it freely to those that I know, think I know or only know about. That is part of the firm foundation that He has given me upon which to live and really live the life that is truly life. There is peace and grace, even joy, knowing there is personal forgiveness and in that truth, I can be a vessel, in the Lord, to have enough forgiveness and love to be shared with all others. Mr. Chambers' statement that "the miracle of the redemptive reality of God is that the worst and vilest offender can never exhaust the depths of His love" could and should be our answer and battle cry when the world shouts to us, "Be Offended, don't let it go, carry it with you always!" What if we acted as Jesus did to the woman with many sins? What if we all knew we were that woman?
Forgiven and loved; ready to love and forgive. May that be the foundation we stand upon this holy week, this Good Friday and Easter.