Friday, April 12, 2013

Learning forgiveness

Alex is a middle aged man who worships at a pretty average church. Most Sundays there doesn't seem to be a whole lot happening. He's not sure why he keeps going every week. There is not much innovative like in some churches. It's pretty traditional and truly he is bored sometimes. But ,even though he can think of many other places he would rather be some Sundays, he and his family are most always there. Somewhere along the way, Alex, has absorbed a core intuition: worship is not what we do only; it is something God does to us. He is mature enough to know that what feels like "going through the motions" at times, is not all that is happening. In his church, there is a time every week when the congregation kneels and confesses their sins to God, and then hears the announcement of the good news of forgiveness in the assurance of pardon. Some Sundays the confession rolls off his tongue without thought. At other times the words almost stun him and feel like they are exactly the words he needed. Some times the prayer of forgiveness felt like a cleansing shower and other times it just washed over him without any recognition of what was being said.

One night Alex and his wife received a call saying their teenage son was in trouble. Afflicted with depression and anxiety, he had spiraled out of control. His destructive behavior was part defiance and part a cry for help. When Alex got that call he had never dreamed of where it would take him. He found himself ushered into a strange room where his son was curled up in a corner. He could only imagine what his son was feeling but no matter what his son had been doing, Alex knew who he was and whose he was. When Alex's son became aware of his father's presence, he grasped his dad around the waist as he had done as a child and sobbed, I'm so sorry, Dad. Please forgive me.

What else could Alex do? Here was a playing out of a scene he had done countless Sundays before: a lifetime of confessing his sins to a gracious Father who, week after week, would announce without condition or hesitation, the complete forgiveness of all our sins. So without having to think about it, Alex gathered his son in his arms and said, Of course, I forgive you.

James Smith tells that story in his book Imagining the Kingdom and then he adds, "the regularity and repetition of the practice of confession and absolution had already taught him, on a gut level, that he too was a prodigal son who regularly approached his Father asking for forgiveness - again. And again. And again. And every single time the gracious Father, already looking for his arrival, met him at the end of the lane and made the same announcement of forgiveness and mercy. ...Alex had absorbed the temperament of the gracious Father ... and the repetition of the practice had effectively recruited Alex as a character in the same drama."