Sermon (3 of 4) Preached by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR at St Mary, Bourne Street, London on Good Friday (6 April) 2012

“Father forgive them; they know not what they do”.  

It’s hard to forgive, really and truly to forgive. It’s often hard to believe we should forgive. In Zimbabwe today we see people impoverished, children living on the streets, farms empty. We hear terrible stories of arrests, horrible prisons where prisoners get little food, of torture and deaths. The people responsible are driving round in big cars, living in vast houses, making millions out of diamonds and illegal currency deals. How can we forgive them?

Zimbabwe is not alone in this. During the terrible years of military dictatorships in South America, thousands and thousands of people were arrested, tortured, raped and murdered. Justice demands that those who did this should be punished. Justice is offended when the guilty walk around free, still enjoying the fruits of their crimes. Yet Jesus says ‘forgive’. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Forgive …seventy times seven.

In Rwanda and Burundi, millions of people were hacked to death, burned to death. In Bosnia, Burma, Afghanistan, Eastern Congo, Mozambique, Tibet and Colombia there have been years and years of violence. What do we do about those who inflicted that violence on their fellows. Must I love Robert Mugabe, or the two Anglican Bishops who have torn our church apart, or the people in this country whose actions seem to me to be destroying the church I love? Must I love the rich and forgive them their million pound bonuses when I see the poor suffering all over the world. You can see how far I am from the Kingdom of God.

Why should we forgive? Well first because that is what Jesus did. “Father forgive these Roman soldiers who are hammering nails into my hands”. They may have been brutal soldiers who enjoyed torturing others. They may have been quite decent men simply doing what they were told. Many police are like that in Zimbabwe today. They hate what they are doing but if they refuse they would be next to be punished. A few do refuse. Would we? If we had been the Roman soldiers would we have refused to nail this man to his Cross and been crucified ourselves. Jesus knew them and loved them. He knew that like all men and women they were children of his Father, loved by his Father. So he loved them too. If you love, you can forgive. If you try to forgive, you will come to love.

Not to forgive means not to love and not to love means to hate. Hatred destroys other people and it destroys ourselves. We see it often in the media - people pursuing justice with hatred in their hearts. It is understandable. Someone they love has been hurt or killed but they themselves are destroyed by their hatred. They are devoured by it and they never recover their lives. Against that you think of Gordon Wilson whose daughter was killed at Enniskillin. He bore no hatred. He forgave the killers. His forgiveness helped to stop the cycle of violence. Violence does not stop violence; it creates it. How many wars to end war have proved that? How many killings have turned into vendettas, going on for years? How many millions of Jews suffered because Christians could not forgive them for what their leaders did to Christ, even though Christ himself did? If Christians themselves had taken the example of Jesus to themselves, the history of our church would be very different and we would have far less to be ashamed of. If we ourselves could learn to forgive those who do us wrong, how different our lives would be!

So what is Jesus asking us now, as he lies upon that Cross? Can we look around our lives and see who we should forgive? However, forgiveness does not come easily. We will need to pray for it; we need to pray for the grace to forgive and we need to try and love. We try to see those we hate as people whom God loves and cares about and wants to save. Loving our enemies is not a natural thing to do. Only God can help us do that.

            Nicolas Stebbing CR