What will be our testimony?
Forgiveness, peace found in risen Christ
As we walked into the Superdome for the Youth Gathering, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was obviously moved by the singing and dancing of the 37,000 participants: "The people of New Orleans need to hear these joyful sounds. This dome holds so many painful memories of Katrina. Our whole city needs to experience the healing that the joyful witness of these youth brings."
I thank God for the joyful witness of those young people, who live, as we do, in a polarized culture that equates unity with uniformity and sees differences as a reason for division. This is a time when the larger human family struggles with division and yearns for healing and wholeness. Think ahead with me to 2017, when Lutherans commemorate the Reformation's 500th anniversary. When we look back, what will we say our witness has been?
Let this be our testimony: the crucified and risen Christ is our joy because he is our forgiveness and our peace.
When the disciples were gathered in a locked room on the same Easter day that he had broken out of death's prison, Jesus came to them and said, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). This ordinary greeting from the risen Jesus became the most extraordinary gift. He was saying to his disciples, "Although you betrayed, denied and abandoned me, and I could justifiably punish or abandon you, starting over with a new and improved 12, I am here in peace. I remain faithful to you, forgiving you in a way you've never seen." Let this be our witness: where the crucified and risen Christ is present, there is forgiveness of sin.
There is also joyous peace. When Jesus showed his disciples the marks of crucifixion in his hands, they rejoiced. They could see that this self-emptying God would rather die than be in the sin-accounting business. Joy flows when God's lush grace washes over you in the proclamation that you are the beloved of God. The wounds of Jesus' crucified body, risen from the dead, testify to God's merciful presence amid sin and death, and bring healing and hope, living faith and deep joy. It is the joy that Jesus promised to his disciples "so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11).
This joy is not a distant fiction or an unrealistic hope -- not for us, nor the life of the ELCA, nor the life of the world. For the word of peace, the word of forgiveness, is both absolution and also a commission. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you. ... If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (John 20:21, 23).
As the late theologian Joseph Sittler once explained, this forgiving peace is both a word to rest in and a word that moves God's people with God's own power for the life and salvation of the world: "The peace of God as rest, whose gift is to have no anxiety, fulfills itself in the peace of God as movement which goes out with holy concern about everything."
When Jesus sends us into the world with his Spirit, we embody forgiveness in all our callings. More than forgetting past wrongs, forgiveness in Jesus is an embodied promise to hold on in love, whatever may come, in all the places where we live and serve. It is the promise to remain present as the embodiment of Christ's peace, even in -- and especially for -- the places where sin threatens to hold us captive. As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, "the very moment of great disillusionment with my sister or brother" becomes the moment to be taught "that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ."
Eight years from now may we be able to say this has been our witness: the forgiven life in Jesus Christ is the promise that we remain connected to every sister and brother in the joy, peace, hope and love that lives in Jesus and therefore in us.
[Taken with permission from the website of Bishop Mark Hanson at ELCA.org; originally published in the October 2009 issue of The Lutheran magazine.]