Forgiveness is the only thing that is new and it is the message of the resurrection.
The world contains only one thing that is truly novel, forgiveness. Everything else is an old tape repeating itself endlessly over and over again. There is normally only one song that gets sung: betrayal-hurt-resentment-non-forgiveness. That pattern never changes. There is an unbroken chain of unforgiven resentment and anger stretching back to Adam and Eve.
We are all part of that chain. Everyone is wounded and everyone wounds. Everyone sins and everyone is sinned against. Everyone needs to forgive and everyone needs to be forgiven.
Betrayal is an archetypal structure within the human soul, just as sin is innate within the human condition. We, all of us, betray and sin. We betray ourselves, betray our loved ones, betray our communities, and sin against our God. Everyone stands in need of forgiveness.
But we are also, each one of us, betrayed and sinned against. We are betrayed by our loved ones, by churches, by our communities, and, in a manner of speaking, even by our God. It is not for nothing that, on the cross, Jesus, incarnating there all that is human, cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We all feel betrayed at that deep level sometimes. Hence, as badly as we need to be forgiven, we also need to forgive.
We have hurt others and we have been hurt. We have sinned and we have been sinned against and when we wake up to that we have a choice: Like Judas we can cleanse ourselves of this, figuratively speaking, by taking what we have gained by our sin, the thirty pieces of silver, and throwing it back into the temple and walking away, purified, but unforgiven, walking straight towards suicide. Conversely, though, we can do like Peter, after his great betrayal, weep bitterly and then return, humbled, compromised and scarred, but forgiven, walking solidly into life. In forgiveness lies the difference between the choice for suicide and the choice for life.
But forgiveness is not easy. An old adage says: To err is human, to forgive is divine. More accurately, one might put it this way: To forgive is the grace that is given by the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus has many dimensions. At one level, it was a physical event. The dead body of Jesus was raised, the cosmic universe at its deepest level suddenly had a new set of laws, and the very atoms of this universe, as nature first arranged them, were re-arranged. Something radically new, physically new, as radical and new as the original creation, appeared within history. This aspect should never be, as it recently has been, understated.
However the resurrection was also a spiritual event and that too is important. In the resurrection of Jesus we are given not just the potential for a resurrected body and a resurrected cosmos, we are given as well the possibility of forgiveness, of being forgiven and of forgiving each other. That new possibility and its radical novelty should also never be understated. From the beginning of time until Jesus’ resurrection, dead bodies stayed dead. And from Adam and Eve until that same resurrection, wounded and dead hearts stayed wounded and dead. All that has now changed. There are new possibilities.
What is new in the resurrection is not just the unbelievable new possibility of physical resurrection. The resurrection gives us to the equally unbelievable possibility of the newness of life that forgiving and being forgiven brings. In our day to day lives that is how we are asked to appropriate the resurrection of Jesus, by forgiving and by letting ourselves be forgiven.
In Mark’s account of the death and resurrection, our human condition is symbolized by a young man who was following Jesus’ journey to the cross from a safe distance. At a certain point this young man, who is wearing only a white linen cloth, is seized. He escapes his captors and flees naked, leaving the cloth behind. That betrayal is yours and mine. But we next meet him on Easter Sunday, sitting on the tomb of the resurrected Jesus, wearing again his linen cloth and announcing to the whole world that Jesus has been raised, that an unbelievable newness has burst into our world, and that there is something even beyond our wounds, sins, and betrayals. The chain of anger has been broken.