Friday September 11th – Today is “9/11” – two numbers together that mean so much – though it is now nearly 20 years ago that the awful event happened.
So many died and so many had their lives changed for ever, whether from wounds, from dust inhalation leading to later disease, from trauma or from the loss of loved ones. It was an act of terror on a scale far greater than we could comprehend.
Without diminishing the horror and the devastation of that event, we must not forget that in other parts of the world thousands have lived with ongoing terror and violence for years, and millions with abject poverty and unclean water. And closer to home too many live with domestic violence and abuse, both current and the scars of past abuse. 9/11 was not – sadly – a one-off.
Our gospel readings at the moment are focused on reconciliation and forgiveness.
As someone privileged to have lived in South Africa in the 1980s and 90s – I say ‘privileged’ because I met some extraordinary people and learnt so much – I know that forgiveness is never cheap or easy, and it does not make everything better, let alone put everything back as it was. Victims can become survivors, but some seem too broken to escape – which is desperately sad.
When a child – by accident – breaks a precious gift, or when someone deliberately hurts and scars another person, you cannot make it as it was. We have to live with the effects and impact.
When someone hurts me I may struggle to forgive, but what if they hurt someone I love? Do I, can I, forgive on behalf of another? Is it for me to forgive? These are deep places, and they are often filled with tears.
As we struggle to understand, two things may guide us helpfully – first to acknowledge the tears and the extent of the hurt experienced, and second to seek to go deeper into the merciful arms of God. Mercy that extends not just to encompass me, but to the other person too; mercy which does not pretend things are ok, or ignore justice, or fail in the face of what is wrong, or condone the actions of the wrong-doer. Christ knew first hand the violence of the execution squad, God too has suffered our rejection, indifference and callousness. God suffers too our maltreatment of his children.
Put another way, how close to hell would we be in a merciless world? Of course, some are in the grip of just that, and some have been close to that place.
We must listen long and speak carefully – this is a subject where wounds are deep and real.
It is not easy to pray as Jesus taught us:
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us;
lead us not into the time of trial,
but deliver us from evil”,
but Jesus never suggested praying was easy.
Rev’d Peter Reiss: 11th Sept 2020