“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”Matthew 18
Holding on to grudges is a common human failing that all too often breaks families and communities apart. It seems that God has spent centuries trying to cure humanity of this fault. I believe that good Christian people, like Dante who wrote The Divine Comedy, can imagine and relish the idea of hell because they cannot bring themselves to let go of their wrath and anger even after death. Seeing their enemies punished is something they look forward to in the afterlife.
Wrath and anger can be passed from generation to generation unless interrupted and the cycle broken. Only when the chain is broken can love be passed along instead of hate. Forgiveness is the thing that can interrupt cycles of bitterness, hate, wrath, and anger.
The Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, has a different culture from the cultures of our world. Forgiveness is an essential element of the Beloved Community. Forgiveness first comes to us as a lavish and gracious gift. There is no sin, there is nothing that God does not forgive before we even ask for forgiveness. It is a gift held out to us and all we must do is accept it. God is love and God loves because God is love. God’s love is always there and because of love, forgiveness is always there. When we accept the gift of forgiveness, we step out of this world system and into the Beloved Community. This is what it means to be saved. Only our unwillingness to accept that we are loved and forgiven prevents us from enjoying a new kind of freedom, a freedom from fear.
When we are free of fear, because we know we are loved and already saved, we can in turn learn to love and forgive others. We can be like the Christian who fails to understand the new creation Christ is bringing to us and instead steps right back into the old world and hugs tight to wrath and anger, not willing to forgive. The society we live in is a punitive society, even going so far as to embrace the death penalty. The world system works on a principle of rewards and punishments. Sadly, churches sometimes embrace the ways of the world, holding out heaven as a reward and hell as a punishment. But heaven is not a reward for good behavior, for doing your duty, for proper worship, for believing the right way. Heaven is a free gift; it is coming home to the Beloved Community where love and forgiveness are found. It is the oneness we enjoy as the Body of Christ.
Forgiveness allows us to live lives free of the past so we can embrace the future. It allows us to let go and move on. Unforgiveness drops us right back into the ways of the world. The consequence is we are tortured by thoughts of vengeance, by our bitterness, resentments, wrath, and anger and we get stuck in the past. But forgiveness is complicated and can be hard.
Forgiveness of terrible things is painful because there is a cost. Like Christ Jesus on the cross forgiveness can mean absorbing the injustice that has been done to you without striking back. Jesus asked God to forgive those who were killing him. Sometimes we also need to ask God to do the forgiving for us, because it is too hard for us now. During Eucharist we will lift the cup of wine and say, “Take this all of you and drink it: This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”
We may be called on to be wine poured out so that sins may be forgiven. This means being willing to forgive even the unforgiveable. Willing to absorb an injustice without striking back. However, please know, forgiveness is not pretending that the harm was not done; it is not denying that things need to change. It does not mean we do not defend ourselves. We take sin seriously. Calling for forgiveness is never to be used to silence those who are suffering from injustice. Forgiveness is letting go of our wrath and anger and instead of retribution, seeking restorative justice. We are to seek justice and transformation through the power of forgiveness, not to submit and give up.
Also remember, forgiveness is not yet reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible and those being abused, exploited, and oppressed need to sever all ties with their abusers and move on. Forgiveness gives you the power to let go and move on into a better future.
My beloved ones, let us not hold anger or wrath in our hearts,