Christians understand that central to God’s nature is the desire to create and the desire to love. We gain this ancient and modern insight into God from the psalms of old and the songs of today. Christians also understand that the people of the earth do not always live and act in harmony with God’s loving and creative nature. We can be destructive and uncaring; acting selfishly and imposing great harm others.
As Christians think about these understandings we reflect that there are times when people offer amazing sacrificial service showing amazing mercy and kindness. We also recognise that there are times when individuals and communities resist the impulse to do good and show care.
This conundrum of human behaviour finds itself played out in the words and phrases that fill churches through holy week and Easter. We ponder the amazing character of God and recognise that even though it was possible for God to wipe his hands of everything He had made, God consistently and lovingly chooses to find ways of being reconciled with creation. Central to this interplay between God and creation is the invitation to creation to come to its senses. Men and women are invited to respond to God’s loving action and live differently; seeking peace and justice for all.
One of the burdens of coming to our senses is the deep recognition of the mistakes we have made, the harm we have done, the hope that we have diminished. When we become alive to the reality of loving goodness we can cry out with despair as we realise the impact our decisions and actions have had on others.
Christians understand that rather than requiring us to carry those burdens for the remainder of our days, God invites us to experience forgiveness in which the weight of the burden is lifted from us. Rather than being imprisoned by our wrong-doing we are invited to begin afresh. We are given the gift of new and renewed life – such is the joy of Easter.
One of the mistakes often made about the gift of forgiveness is the expectation that with forgiving comes forgetting. The Christian tradition in fact moves in the opposite direction. We are in fact called to remember the road we have travelled and the grace that has been bestowed on us. We remember in order that we might not cause harm again.
When we know in our lives the reality of being forgiven we do not walk on this earth as people with a sense of entitlement but as people who marvel at the chance of trying again. As we have known forgiveness we offer forgiveness to others. As we have received mercy so we show mercy to others.
At the heart of Christian life is the knowledge that our sins are forgiven because of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. We celebrate the new life we receive from God in the various services of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Day.
The Right Reverend Dr Peter Stuart
Assistant Bishop of Newcastle