The Forgiveness Spiral
“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.” – Mark 14:30-31
Why is this little story coming up again in the lectionary, the churchwide-approved cycle of readings to help us keep our Big Story straight? Didn’t we cover this, oh, back on Good Friday?
Maybe it’s because very few of us can forgive once and for all. There’s a reason Jesus asked us to forgive those who hurt us 490 times—and a reason why He himself, the next time He bumped into three-times-denying Peter after the crucifixion and resurrection, casually asked him if he really loved Him—three times. Even Jesus couldn’t quite let it go with a mention.
When people hurt and betray us, the shrapnel wound can go layers deep. We can’t necessarily surface all the bullet fragments through sheer force of will. Only time, continued hard spiritual work, and God working on our wounded flesh can do that. Forgiveness is a serial proposition.
Bishop Anne Lamott said she always thinks her next book will be entitled People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective. She said Jesus wants us to forgive our enemies, but that He also loves honesty and transparency. Better a glacial and authentic forgiveness than a hasty but cheap grace.
The next time you berate yourself for still not having completely forgiven your personal Peter, ask yourself (or God): am I really in exactly the same place? Notice if your work, and God’s action, has made you a little easier in your body or mind—if God has carried you further up and further into the forgiveness spiral that spells grace for everyone.
God, spiral me out of Good Friday and deep into Easter, inside myself and with every person whose life touches mine. Amen.
Molly Baskette is senior minister of First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA, and the author of the book Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back from the Dead and Yours Can Too.