Radical Forgiveness | Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

Today is one of those wonderful family days. Even with our quarantined state, I’m sure we’re all finding ways to be with family today. Maybe FaceTime, maybe Zoom, maybe phone calls, but still, we’re gathering, we’re rejoicing in our loved ones. There will be wonderful, new, family memories made today for many of us. It’s a cherished holiday for the way it brings us together. And I recognize that, at this moment, the length of my sermon determines how long it will be until you get to eat ham; unless, of course, you’re watching this later on in the day!

Today is Easter Sunday! Jesus is raised from the dead! It’s why I rise with the sun this morning, for a new day breaks, a new dawn comes on the horizon with the resurrection of Jesus. Morning has broken, like the first morning…God’s recreation of the new day! 

Today is a new day. Christ the Lord is risen! That’s reason to celebrate! It’s reason to be together as a family. For Christ saved us all, as individuals, as families, and as a world. It’s reason to experience the warmth of togetherness. It’s reason to celebrate, for Christ is raised from the dead and offers us salvation simply by confessing that he is Lord. 

So, let us hear the story again, but with ears to hear it afresh and anew, in Luke 24:1-12.

Scripture

For the disciples, this is an idle tale. They don’t believe the news when the women share it with them. Which is odd. They know, they can remember, the same teaching that the women remember. Standing at the empty tomb, the angels told the women to remember Jesus’s teaching: that he would be “crucified, and on the third day rise again.” The disciples know this teaching just as well as the women. So why don’t they believe the women when they hear the news? 

The women who deliver the news are trusted by the male disciples as compatriots of Jesus; women whom the Gospel of Luke often refers to as disciples, just like the male disciples. These female disciples stayed right by Jesus’s side through the whole drama. They’re more than likely at the sham trial and they’re at the cross as Jesus dies. It’s these women, along with a “righteous man named Joseph,” who tenderly care for the body and lay him in the tomb. And it’s these female disciples who, on this morning, are headed to give Jesus a proper, honorable, burial, after the sabbath had passed, by bringing spices. 

In fact, these women show much more faith, and much greater dedication to Christ, than the men. When Jesus was arrested, the male disciples fled in all directions. During the trial, Peter famously denied that he knew Jesus three times, and the cock crowed. By the time the crucifixion is over, eleven of the male disciples can be found hiding out in a room; the twelfth dead by his own hand. When the female disciples go to tell them of the news, they’re still hiding, probably unsure of what to do next.

Consider the comparison between the male and female disciples. The male disciples fled out of cowardice. The female disciples showed tremendous courage. The male disciples denied knowing Jesus or hid away out of fear. The female disciples, rather than be fearful, showed tremendous love. These women are the heroes of the passion narrative; they are the exemplars of faith. 

For it’s fair to say that the women remained steadfast in their faith in Jesus. The men betrayed Jesus. It’d be good and right and true if the men feared retribution from Jesus for their cowardly betrayal. So perhaps this is why they don’t believe the female disciples: they don’t want to believe it’s true because they have guilty consciences for having betrayed Jesus at his greatest moment of need. 

For they all betray Jesus. Some betray him by fleeing from the scene, refusing to remain steadfast and stand by their leader. Others betray him by denying him, as Peter did. And then there’s Judas Iscariot, who betrays Jesus by selling him out for “some money,” as the gospel of Luke puts it.

And betrayal, regardless of form, wounds deeply. Imagine yourself as Jesus, going through his passion, knowing your closest friends have abandoned you and denied knowing you. Imagine the depth of betrayal. We can, because we’ve been betrayed ourselves. We know what that’s like. Betrayal wounds deeply; and we can imagine Jesus wounded deeply by the betrayal of his disciples.

Betrayal is hard. I would venture to guess that all of us have experienced betrayal at some point in our lives. There’s something powerful about being betrayed that makes it harder to forgive, harder to move on. Especially if the betrayal was by someone close to us: a spouse, a parent, a lifelong friend, a cherished family member, a trusted coworker, a business partner. 

When it’s someone close like that, the betrayal sticks with us, haunts us, gets into our bones and refuses to let go. We can confront the betrayer all day long, but very often it doesn’t resolve things. We can go to therapy for years, but sometimes that’s only of marginal help. Betrayal sticks with us for betrayal wounds deeply. 

That’s the case here with Jesus. These are his twelve closest friends, most trusted advisors, the heirs to the kingdom he’s come to establish. Through them, he will build the church. And at his moment of greatest need, they’ve betrayed him. 

So maybe, just maybe, the male disciples think these female disciples are full of “idle talk” because they don’t want to believe that it’s true. If it is true, if Jesus really is raised from the dead, the disciples probably expect Jesus to be righteously angry with them. They probably expect some sort of judgment, or retribution. Jesus certainly didn’t shy away from judging the pharisees. He called out sin when he saw sin. And they have sinned; failed him miserably, betrayed him. 

We could all empathize with a righteously angry Jesus, dealing with the betrayal of his closest friends and partners. We can, because we’ve been there. 

Think back to the greatest betrayal you’ve experienced. Perhaps, if we were gathering as usual on this Easter Sunday, it would be sitting with you at the family table as you pass grandmother’s Mac and cheese and the honey ham. Perhaps it comes from another source. But we’ve all experienced it. There are deep wounds related to betrayals, wounds so deep and difficult that, even if the person who betrayed us wanted to reestablish relationship, we couldn’t just jump back in. Forgiveness, if we could offer it, would take time. The wounds are too deep, too painful, for it to be otherwise.

That’s why we can empathize with Jesus. We would rightfully expect Jesus to be very angry, to seek to make things right and get an apology from his disciples for their betrayal. We would expect Jesus to seek to get his wounds healed by confronting his closest friends. So what happens when, just a few verses later in Luke, he shows up before them? 

Nothing. Later in this same chapter, Luke records Jesus showing up randomly in the room where the disciples are gathered. After the male disciples, and those with them in the room, get used to the idea that Jesus really is back from the dead and that they are not, in fact, seeing a ghost, Jesus begins to teach them again. He treats them just as he always had. He opens up the scriptures to them, as Luke puts it, to better understand who he is, what he means, and what that means for their lives after he goes back to heaven. 

There’s no mention of their betrayal. There’s no mention of any ill feelings or ill will on the part of Jesus. There’s nothing like that. He doesn’t even tell them they’re forgiven. He just acts like it. He acts as if nothing at all had ever happened. They simply move on. 

For all of us who carry wounds from betrayals in our past, that’s radical. How could he trust these disciples again? How could he simply treat them as if nothing had ever gone wrong, as if there had been no history of betrayal. How could he? 

We might be tempted to say he could because he’s Jesus, which means he was God. That’s true. But he was also human. He experienced pain, just as we do, even the emotional pain of betrayal. He experienced all the same pains that we know, so he certainly experienced the pain of the betrayal of his male disciples. 

So how could he simply go on as if nothing had happened? As if there was no water under the bridge? As if all was well? 

He could go on because he sought healing from the right source. 

Too many of us seek healing from our betrayers. We look for an apology or contrition before we can heal. We hold onto the wound because we think it gives us power over the person who wronged us. As long as we’re hurt, we can justify being rude or unkind or difficult to the person who betrayed us. As long as we’re hurt, we can get the attention we crave. As long as we’re hurt, we can try to force the other to come to us apologetic, contrite, and rejoice in their humiliation. 

And so we hold onto our wounds. But when we do, we give the person who wronged us tremendous power. If they never apologize, if they’re never contrite, if they never come to us humbly, we will have the wound forever. That’s a tremendous amount of power to give someone else.

Jesus didn’t handle his wounds that way. He sought healing from the right source: his, and our, Heavenly Father. God can heal us of all our wounds, regardless of the other person. If we will give God the power to heal us, instead of the betrayer, we will discover our wounds healed and we will be set free, able to forgive and move on, even if the betrayer shows no remorse, no contrition, and gives no apology. 

How? Through the power of resurrection. 

Resurrection isn’t just about life after death. It’s about bringing life into the dark parts of the human experience; into the places where we feel dead. It’s about resurrecting us from despair to hope, from conflict to peace, from dismay to joy, and from hatred to love. God’s power of resurrection brings us back to life in this life as well as the next. 

But, just like in our salvation when we brought ourselves humbly before God and confessed Jesus Christ as savior, we have to be willing to bring our wounds of betrayal before God; to humbly bring ourselves before God, vulnerably exposing those hard places. We have to be willing to die to ourselves, die to our clinging to our wounds, die to our desire for control over our healing process; we have to be willing to die to ourselves to find life. It’s just as the apostle Paul says in Romans: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…For whoever has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5,7)

We have to give God our wounds, dying to the habits of giving our betrayer power over our healing. And when we do, we will receive healing, because our Heavenly Father will come in with resurrection power and bring the dead parts of our lives, indeed, our very wounds, back to life.

Resurrection will heal the dark parts of our human existence. I wonder, do you know that power in your life this morning? 

If you don’t, bring out your wounds of despair, conflict, dismay, and hatred. When you do, when you show those wounds to God in prayer, when you talk to God about them, God will resurrect your wounds into hope, peace, joy, and love. Tell God exactly how you feel. Tell God all about the wounds. Then boldly ask for healing. God will heal you. It may take time, it may take going back to God over and over again with those wounds from when you’ve been betrayed, but healing will come. Tell God about your wounds, and be set free. 

God will heal our wounds but, sometimes we must confess, we are the wounder. We are the one who has created a wound in another. We are the guilty party. Perhaps we are the one who betrayed our family member, business partner, spouse, or close friend. Maybe we haven’t betrayed but we’ve done something else grievous: harsh, terrible words; awful gossip; lying for years; cheating on others; if that’s you, confess your sin to God in prayer this morning. God will forgive you, just as Jesus forgave the disciples. There’s great freedom in the confession of sin because of God’s resurrection power that will restore your soul. Confess your sin and be set free.

And this morning, the basis of all of this lies in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On this Easter Sunday, do you know Jesus? Have you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you haven’t, make that confession in prayer. Easter is a great day to offer yourself to God. Even if you have betrayed Jesus at times in your life, Jesus comes to you with forgiveness, ready to welcome you into full relationship, just as he did for his disciples. Commit your life to Christ, and be set free.

Healing will come because God is faithful to us. No other power can match the power of resurrection to heal the dead places in our soul, places deadened by wounds, and bring us back to life. We can know the strong power of resurrection in our lives and thus live as God has always intended for us to live: free. 

Free from worry. Free from fear. Free from anxiety. Free from despair. Free from depression. Free from the shackles of old wounds. Free from the weight of unconfessed sin. Free from the burden of being unforgiving. Free from the pains of betrayal. Free from giving others power over our healing. Free. Simply free to be. And simply free to forgive those who have wounded us. 

That’s what resurrection will give us. We just have to be humble enough to confess our wounds, confess our sins, and confess Jesus as Lord. Will you do that this morning?

For we can be like Jesus: radically forgiving because we have been radically forgiven. We must stop waiting, relying on our betrayer to apologize and show contrition in order to be healed. We must stop trying use our wounds as power over the betrayer to get the apology and justice we want. We must stop. We must die to this habit.

And be resurrected into new life. Take our wounds before God, anticipating our healing, knowing resurrection is coming to our wounds. Go to God in prayer, bring your wounds, confess Jesus Christ as savior and boldly ask for healing. 

Resurrection is here.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

Let’s take a few moments, right here wherever you are viewing this worship service, to offer those prayers to the Lord now.

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