Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Accessible Forgiveness
(Reflecting on Ashes to Go, Reconciliation, and Neighbors)

What a gift to share this day with my good friend, the Rev. Don Fleischman.
Many of you know of my initial reluctance to participate in Ashes to Go, and some of you have read about my later conversion, which was not quite to Ashes to Go, but to a modified version of it: to the opportunity to seek forgiveness of others in public liturgy (see below). The Orthodox Church does something similar, within its own community, in what is called Forgiveness Sunday.

The gift of engaging forgiveness-seeking outside of one's church walls is clear: sometimes we ourselves are the obstacles to another's finding peace within our walls, to another's ability or willingness to enter through our doors. This is why mission and evangelism are always, at their heart, of one piece with the work of reconciliation. Ecumenism, too, is not merely the working out of theological technicalities, but learning to say, "I hurt you, and I'm sorry," in ways that the other can hear and receive.

Thus one advantage of taking forgiveness seeking to the streets is that we discover the opportunity to ask forgiveness of our sisters and brothers of different denominations, whose own observances of Ash Wednesday will likely relegate them and us to different spaces during the times of our "official" worships. 

So it was that I found my heart deeply touched and humbled as the Rev. Franklin Wilson walked over to our Ashes to Go station this morning. Franklin is the head pastor at Luther Memorial, St. Francis House's next door neighbor. The Lutherans were outspoken in their opposition of the building project that led to St. Francis House's relocation and the building of the X01 student apartment complex. While the groundwork for the building project predates my time at St. Francis House, I think it is fair to say that, in the end, both sides made compromises and both sides experienced frustrations and hurt at the hands of the other. 

Franklin came up to us smiling. "I saw you out here and couldn't not come out. Brothers, may I ask your blessing?" We welcomed Franklin, explained the short prayers, and began. Quickly we were there at the question: "Friend, in light of the reconciliation Christ has made possible, and before sharing these ashes, I ask you, is there anything for which I (or my church) need to ask your forgiveness?" 

Franklin mentioned how he and his church wanted to build up the friendship between us more than had happened. More than they'd like to have done. "No," I said, "this is for us to ask your forgiveness." He looked up and smiled, put his hands on our heads and said in Latin, with a laugh, "I absolve you!" We all laughed.

Of course, this moment doesn't stand in isolation from other moments. It does not stand apart from my gratitude for Brent, the Lutheran campus minister, and his friendship; does not stand apart from the high fives Franklin and I shared when Rebekah and Jude spent a morning interviewing at the Lutheran Preschool or the kindness of his welcome then; doesn't stand apart from the (sometimes difficult) honesty of the conversations to which Franklin has long committed; doesn't stand apart from my daily prayers for our neighbors, my more regular visits, or our shared dreams for occasional partnerships; does not stand apart from daily, intentional commitments to live toward each other. But...

It was a moment we needed. All of us. Each of us.

The gift of engaging forgiveness-seeking outside of one's church walls is clear: sometimes we ourselves are the obstacles to another's finding peace within our walls, to another's ability or willingness to enter through our doors. This is why mission and evangelism are always, at their heart, of one piece with the work of reconciliation. Ecumenism, too, is not merely the working out of theological technicalities, but learning to say, "I hurt you, and I'm sorry," in ways that the other can hear and receive.


2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful story of reconciliation and of hope - I remember that big struggle . . . nice to have the whole thing forgiven and 'absolved.'

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  2. God is good = ) Perhaps next year I could be converted to the "dark side" of participating in Ashes-to-Go. The signage possibilities might be reason enough..."Get your ashes here!" God bless you brother, and thank you for your witness.

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