Forgive us our trespasses… (Matthew 6:12). How necessary this is! Daily, even hourly, we need to come to God with a deep repentance for those thoughts, words and actions that dishonour his name. Like Isaiah (in chapter 6), we feel our unworthiness before his utter purity.
‘Woe is me,’ is our heart-felt cry – so well expressed in the general confession in the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have left undone what we ought to have done, and we have done what we ought not to have done. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have broken your holy laws. ..
What does God offer? He offers full and free pardon when we humbly turn to Jesus Christ. God took into himself the pain we caused when Christ died on the cross.
The Lord’s Prayer does not stop with the petition for our forgiveness, for Jesus continues, …as we forgive those who trespass against us. There is a real sting here, for he is saying that if we expect God to forgive us, we need to hold out forgiveness to those who have hurt us.
And in case we miss this point in the prayer notice what Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6:14: ‘For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.’
These words are sobering! Think of it: if we expect to receive God’s gracious pardon, we need to cease nursing grievances towards others. God cannot, and will not, pardon the unrepentant heart. Paul echoes this theme in Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgives you.”
On Sunday, July 25, 1993, a year before Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, a man with an AK-47 and another with grenades embedded with nails, entered evening worship at St James’ Anglican Church, Cape Town. Eleven people were killed in church that night and fifty-eight wounded. When TV reporters turned their cameras on the man whose wife had been the first to die, they asked, ‘What is your response?’ Looking squarely into the cameras, he said that he forgave the attackers. Throughout the church the response was the same.
The world was stunned. Some cynically responded that if there is a God, he would have protected his people. But countless others, in Cape Town and around the world started asking questions. Bishop Frank Retief recalls that a thousand people turned up at church the following Sunday night. Many over the coming months came to know Jesus Christ. It all began with the spirit of forgiveness that church members held out to their attackers.
Pause, and consider those whom you feel have wronged you – those whom you resent. ‘Pray about your attitude,’ says Paul in Colossians 3:13f. Can you forgive them? Remember Jesus’ words: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…
Yet, good Lord, have mercy on us; restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to mankind in Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant, merciful Father, for his sake, that we may live a godly and obedient life, to the glory of your holy name. Amen. (BCP)