Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter are always so familiar to me. I find the whole process incredibly comforting, like a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night. The hymns from All Glory Laud and Honor on Palm Sunday to Jesus Christ is Risen Today on Easter morning and everything during Holy Week is just right. There are chances to repeat the story to my children and grandchildren about dying Easter Eggs with my father. I especially like sharing with my little granddaughter about her mother “stealing” eggs, during the mandatory Easter egg hunt. We would hide eggs high for her mom and low for her aunt, and for many years her mom would go after both the high and low eggs infuriating her little sister. Funny, my granddaughter herself seemed to have no compunction about “stealing” from her little brother.
Every year, I have similarly approached Easter. While there are occasional changes to the routine, for example, where the family will go to Easter brunch. I must confess that I have not pondered the meaning of Easter or any particular aspect of the story that I have heard for so many years. I was surprised, therefore, this year, to be struck by that part of the story which details Peter’s denial of Christ. Three times, as predicted by Jesus, Peter claims he has no idea who Jesus is, and he is certainly not a follower of Christ. This betrayal of what he believes, of course, is coupled with the deception by Judas who identifies Jesus for the Romans. As the story goes, Jesus not only tells of the coming betrayals, but he forgives the actions of those he assumingly has come to trust. It is that forgiveness, which appears so effortless, that amazes me. And I am not sure I have heard much about how it came to pass.
I am sure through the years, there have been many sermons about Jesus and forgiveness, but I find myself longing for an in-depth explanation. Something more complicated perhaps than “… and Jesus said to turn the other cheek.” I know that he forgave Peter and Judas, but it must have been harder than it seems.
These were his friends his chief supporters, and he had to have established a bond with them as together they preached in Palestine. We know that Jesus had moments of weakness when he asked God to take the burden from him; he was, after all, a man. I believe that part of the weight had to have been the knowledge that his most trusted, especially in the case of Peter, would betray him.
This betrayal and forgiveness struck me more this Easter than ever before. I suspect that few among us are unfamiliar with the disappointment of betrayal by a disloyal friend. Perhaps a perceived ally in business turned on us or worse how many marriages have felt the sting of infidelity and betrayal. What feels more distressing is the evidence of deception and lack of remorse in our public dialogue. Our leaders are caught in all types of betrayals to spouses and equally troubling the democracy itself. We have seen the betrayal of the foundations of our country at an alarming rate — seen also in increasing racism and antisemitism.
Are we to forgive these betrayals?
We all know the contemporary responses to the pain brought on by these deceptions. I was once told to be a “big person” when I discovered such fraud by a friend. Some like to say “I can forgive, but I will never forget,” which is a sentiment I have never entirely understood. Would Christ have forgiven those who would call themselves Christians but give President Trump a “mulligan” on betraying his wife?
These questions are why I would like to know more about how Jesus worked it out so that his last words after hours of suffering, brought on by the betrayal of one disciple and the abandonment of another, was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We are always taught that Christ was made a man in order to show us how to live a good and righteous life. Since he was a man, did he not have the same temptations to revenge a betrayal, or to carry a grudge?
We accept that God is a forgiving God, and His son showed us forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is a big part of the faith and yet difficult to obtain. I want to know more about how you learn to truly forgive and forget and embrace those who have hurt us deeply. As we turn from Easter celebrations and return to the everyday world that seems ever more fractured, I want to find the path to real forgiveness, now more than ever.