A few weeks ago I was asked what ‘sin against us’ might actually mean. It was a fabulous – and important question that arose from an introduction to the Lord’s Prayer: “Let us ask our Father to forgive us, as we forgive those who sin against us.” For the nub of the question was: isn’t a sin just something we do wrong in the sight of God?
Many of you, will of course know that it’s a simple transliteration of the dependant sub-clause of the Lord’s prayer itself: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. And for those who worry I’m about to embark on a pedant’s English lesson the point here is that we have to forgive others in order to be in a place where God can forgive us.
We often can regard sin – the disruption of good relationship – as being just a “me and God’ kind of thing. I guess that’s why people say “I don’t need to go to confession – God can forgive me directly” If our relationship with God, our exercise of religious faith is, ultimately only about my individualistic relationship with God to the exclusion of everyone else, then I can follow that line of reasoning. It is bourne out of protestant conception of salvation simply being sola fide by faith alone – when “me” and “God” are the only fundamentals. Hence the evangelical’s questions of faith are all posited in individual terms: when did you accept Jesus as Lord; do you accept Jesus as your personal Saviour; “I came to faith when I accepted Jesus into my life”.
The problem with that is that its wrong in so far as it is incomplete. It’s only half the story.
For you do not come here today as a individuals, each ‘doing your own thing’ albeit in the presence of other people each ‘doing their own thing’. We come together to become something greater than the sum of the individual parts. To be God’s people binds us in relationship not only with God: but with each other, and with those who went before as with those who will follow after us.
Thus, to use a phrase, we become aware in our corporate life, in our Catholic faith that we are the Church militant here on earth, conjoined in our worship with the Church expectant (the souls of the faithful departed) and the Church Triumphant (the saints in glory).
And this day, this celebration, the Passion of Jesus is the connecting point – it is the epicenter and crossroad for all Christian people in every time and place.
For what Jesus does in his self offering on the Cross for the sins of the world forever changes our relationship with the Father, through him; and forever changes our relationship with each other.
The death of Jesus, the price of our sin, and the demonstration of the depths of God’s love changes our individual relationship with the Father and – and – with each other.
When I sin, it is not just my relationship with God which is distanced (for that is what sin does) – my relationship with those who I hurt in word, deed or through omission are distanced too from me.
And today is above all other days, when Jesus rescues us from the oblivion of sin, restores us to the Father and restores us to each other.
So when I sin, I affect not only my relationship with God I affect my relationship with each of you.
What Jesus accomplishes is my ability to seek forgiveness and reconciliation – with God and with those I have hurt – those I have sinned against.
That means I have to take responsibility for what I have done.
Its far easier to opine “but that’s between me and God alone”. That allows us to hide in our own relationship with God – real or imagined. We can convince ourselves that everything’s ok – when it might be far from ok. To hear someone’s confession is always a profound experience – because that act of speaking of our innermost, deepest, darkest failings to another makes the reality of our sin present. Once said, once out in the open, we can’t any more pretend it was anyone else who did it – I did it.
In doing so, the first step to reconciliation is taken – we take responsibility for what we have done and what we have failed to do.
The wood of the cross that we venerate links us – for it is in the wood of the tree of the garden of Eden that innocence is lost, sin disfigures us in the action of Adam and Eve. It is in the wood of a tree, fashioned into a cross that Jesus is disfigured so we can be freed from sin and made whole again. This second Adam, our Lord, does what we cannot do. He pays the price for our wrongs. And what a price he pays – Jesus gives his life for you.
When we come to the Cross, as all of us must – either now, or in the hour of our death and day of our judgement – we are offered forgiveness, we can experience the power of forgiveness – we understand that we too can forgive. That is, if we want that gift. We learn that broken relationships can be restored, that our brokenness can be repaired. We simply need to want it – to be penitent – to say sorry – to open our hearts.
For how many lives here, today are silently broken by the casual or callous ways we wound each other? How many families, couples, individuals today are scarred with the pains of relationships gone wrong? How many festering wounds that cry out for healing have our sins caused? How many lives here, behind the veneer of projected respectability are twisted by the burdens of the sins we carry? Bitter, empty, cold, afraid, alone.
Sin pulls us away from God and from each other, straining, cracking, breaking the bonds of peace. The Cross, in the triumph of Christ Crucified, pulls us back together, holds us, loves us, forgives us, restores us.
I am my brother’s keeper – when I sin against him, I sin against God too. When I hurt him, I hurt myself, I hurt my God. Your sin affects your relationship with God every bit as it hurts the person sat next to you.
We’re offered, now, the chance to know in penitence and faith the gift of reconciliation this day: as we come face to face with the real and heavy cost of our disobedience and sin. His death was caused by us, by me, by you. And yet he loves us still.
Jesus dies for you, for me, for us: for what we did, for what we do. His cross says boldly for those with the courage to face it, for those who won’t run away from it: it’s time, time to stop blaming others, it’s time, here, now, to take responsibility for your sins.