Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The burden of Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday -- that is the traditional name for the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. For some, it is a last day of feasting before Lent. The French call it Fat Tuesday. In Britain, Ireland, Australia and Canada -- and IHOP restaurants, it is called Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday

I like the name Shrove Tuesday. The origin of the name Shrove lies in the archaic English verb "to shrive", which means to absolve people of their sins.

There is a minister in our denomination, Joanna Adams, who tells the story of a Methodist colleague she knew well.

The Methodist minister and his wife were walking on the streets of downtown Atlanta when they saw a man collapse nearby.

While his wife called 911, the Methodist minister leaned over the man to comfort him.

"Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ve called for help and they will be here any moment. Just hang on.”

Suddenly the stranger reached up and grabbed the minister by the coat and pulled him close to him so they were eye to eye – “Charlie,” the stranger said.

“I’m not Charlie,” said the minister. “But don’t worry. I’m with you and we’ve called for help. Just hang on.”

The stranger ignored him.

“Charlie, forgive me.”

“I’m not Charlie. Charlie isn’t here. But we’ve called for help.”

“Charlie, listen to me, forgive me!”

"I’m not Charlie.”

“Charlie, listen to me. Forgive me.”

And seeing the desperation in his eyes, the Methodist minister said, “I forgive you.”

And those were the last words the stranger would ever here before his death.

The minister later thought about how arrogant he had been to offer forgiveness. “Who am I,” he would later ask, “to speak for this Charlie and to offer a word of forgiveness.”

But then he realized he did that every Sunday in worship, and ever day of his life.

We are called to forgive. God means for us to be forgiving to others and to receive and enjoy forgiveness. There are a couple of frightening passages in Scripture that are related to our responsibility to forgive others.

One is from Matthew's Gospel. Jesus is teaching the disciples the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:14-15), and he explains about the line, "Forgive us our debts/sins/trespasses," by telling his followers, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Wow -- our ability to receive forgiveness is connected with our ability to forgive others!

The flip side of this forgiveness comes in John's Gospel (John 20:23), where Jesus said, "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

What a delightfully incredible burden we have!

Friends, forgive the slimballs, ass holes and jerks in your midst. Your soul, and theirs, depends on it.


Anonymous Bill said...

Thanks for sharing, John!

9:26 PM  
Anonymous kairos (dctoo) said...

Yes, thanks for that!
Do you have a citation for Adams' story?

11:32 PM  

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