‘Apologize … and Give It Back’
— By David Stanley —
Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be. What we do know is this: when He is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as He is.1 John 3:2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2
These are two of my favorite scriptures. Molly and I chose them to be read at our wedding and they formed the basis for the homily that day. The main point was that our new lives together would be surprising, with identities and journeys yet unknown. But along the way we would be supported by a great cloud of experienced and loving witnesses – those surrounding us in the sanctuary that day and those gone before.
In the context of recent news, other types of witnesses have been front-of-mind, perhaps those unknown to me, those who have seen or experienced significant harm. Time and again, we watch survivors of violence and trauma forgive the aggressors, in powerful acts of faith. Their perspective is not necessarily of timelines or linear events, but of unending grace. They wait because “it does not yet appear what we [the oppressors] shall be.” Isn’t that type of hope surprising?
When we expand our great cloud of witnesses to include those wronged, we find a deeper faith and forgiveness, assurance that our journey is neither finished nor unchangeable. Those witnesses wait in hopeful anticipation of our Easter dawn, when we might bear witness to their radical love. It is not because of our righteousness, but because of our rebirth – our resurrection – that we become part of their cloud, too.
As Molly and I approach another wedding anniversary (it was the Saturday before Palm Sunday that year), we are thinking of how we might bring a child up who believes the things we are continuing to learn in our communities. When children are playing and one takes a toy from another, we teach them to apologize and give it back. Apologize and give it back. Wouldn’t it be something if we gave our children a generational model of repentance and repair. One that goes beyond Ash Wednesday and Lent. One that does not stop on Easter Sunday.
Alas, how can we ever begin? Look to the end of the Hebrews excerpt: “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
Dear God, remind me it does not yet appear what I shall be. Reveal to me the fullness of the cloud of witnesses, especially those unknown. Let me listen to what they’ve seen. Give me the courage to act with perseverance that I might join them in their surprising hope, amazing grace, and deepest faith. Amen.