Part of Halleluiah chorus…
I guess many of you know how it goes on – “King of kings and Lord of lords”
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. I don’t know about you – but thinking about Jesus – ‘King’ is not the first image that comes to my mind.
But he is the person I hope rules my life; he is a ruler who I think is worth following; and he is building a kingdom.
Our gospel reading gave us an idea what kind of kingdom. Here is Jesus, nailed to the cross – mocked, humiliated – but his only words are of forgiveness. Forgiveness for the criminal who at the last minute recognises Jesus as king; forgiveness even for those who crucified him.
Christ our king wants a kingdom built on forgiveness – and he relies on his followers to build this kingdom here on earth. A kingdom built on forgiveness – I once had a glimpse of what that might look like…
They were the sort of class you get once in a teaching career – motivated, well behaved and they just got on well together… From their first day in school they were a lovely class.
Then at the end of year one they gained a new child. Traumatic experiences had left her more or less wild. She spent most of her first week under the table biting children’s legs. So I started the next year with that class rather apprehensive. Our new addition was way behind academically and couldn’t sit for long in lessons before nipping, punching, name calling…
My patience would soon have worn thin – but the children showed me another way. They did not ignore the nipping, the punching – but so long as it was acknowledged, the child ‘told off’, they forgave. That class of 6 year olds – the minute the bad behaviour stopped – were ready to be friends, to invite that child into their games, to ask to work with her, to invite her home for tea, to parties.
They just seemed to see beyond the behaviour to the scared, needy child underneath. ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. And of course, being forgiven, accepted, allowed the child to blossom. By the end of the year she had caught up academically, was happy, was part of the class.
A lovely story – and a special memory – but what does it tell us?
Being able to forgive meant that the children themselves were happier. They didn’t dwell on the hurt, they didn’t waste time brooding over it. Nor did they go looking for bad behaviour assuming any accidental hurt must have been ‘on purpose’.
That was a real lesson for me – it is so easy to assume a word or an action is intended to hurt, when the person who said it had no such idea. How often do we go around nursing resentment against someone who would never knowingly hurt us but perhaps just didn’t think. And of course if we do – it is us who suffer. Nelson Mandela once said “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” We are happier if we can forgive.
The children also showed the power of forgiveness to change those who hurt us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean ignoring behaviour that offends. This doesn’t take sin seriously – nor does it take the sinner seriously. Those 6 year olds did not ignore the hurtful behaviour – they did not say – ‘we don’t care what you do’ we will ignore you because we want to get on, you can misbehave if you like…
The message they gave was ‘we care what you do – we want you to change – we don’t want that behaviour in our classroom – but our friendship, our love, is strong enough to survive what you have done.’ It wasn’t just forgive and forget – but a creative act which allowed that child to grow and change.
What about when the hurt goes deeper, when someone really does mean to diminish us by their words or actions? Well even if we have reason for resentment (and Nelson Mandela certainly had) it is still us it damages.
Forgiving someone who is not willing to apologise may not change them – but it still changes us. It is good to pray for people who hurt us – It’s hard to stay really angry with someone you are really praying for.
And as my class showed – the constant offer of unearned forgiveness is very powerful and hard to resist. It is also of course what Jesus our king offers us daily…
There are some things which are not ours to forgive. Some things which should certainly never be forgotten…Auschwitz, atrocities going on in Mosul…I do not know how to deal with these…but I am content to hand these to Jesus who, even as he was nailed to the cross, prayed “Father forgive.”
What I can try to do is stop being offended where no offense was meant. What I can try to do is pray for those who hurt me until I can forgive. What I can try to do is offer forgiveness that says I care how you behave, but my love does not depend on it.
What we at St Mary’s can try to do is be part of a Kingdom built on forgiveness – the Kingdom of Christ – King of kings and Lord of lords.