Forgiveness Uncrossed

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

This sermon was preached by Daniel at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer  in San Rafael CA on Sunday April 19, 2015. 

A few years ago, Saturday Night Live showed a trailer on their program for a fake film called “Djesus Uncrossed” in which Jesus comes back from the dead in order to wreak bloody vengeance on the Romans and Judas Iscariot. The satire was primarily poking fun at film director Quentin Tarantino, who is notorious for directing popular and controversial revenge films, like “Kill Bill” and “Django Unchained.” Although many Christians were offended by this portrayal of Jesus, the satire, I thought, was actually quite brilliant, working effectively on multiple levels. Not only did it make fun of the excessive and almost cartoonlike violence in Tarantino’s films, it also poked fun at Christians who do tend to think of Jesus as a white, gun-toting Republican who will someday return with his army to destroy non-believers. In fact, many Christians who spoke out against the spoof trailer exposed their own attachment to the very view of Jesus that was being portrayed. They said that Jesus would judge, condemn and punish anyone who even laughed at such blasphemy, not to mention those who wrote and produced it. The satire exposed how much Christians are attached to violence and violent portrayals of Christ. The fake trailer included a line from a film reviewer who called it “a less violent ‘Passion of the Christ,’” mocking the extreme violence of Mel Gibson’s film, which many Christians hailed as magnificent and sacrosanct.

The satire, in my opinion, was effective and the main reason that it worked at all is because it is not true. And that is what is so profound about the Gospel. Jesus was not at all vindictive or violent. And if anyone had the right to wreak some serious bloody vengeance, it was Jesus, who was not only crucified by the Roman and Jewish authorities but was also betrayed, denied and left for dead by his closest friends. We would expect him to come back and kick some butt, Quentin Tarantino-style. After all, he is the Son of God, who had legions of angels at his disposal (Matt 26:53). He could have done some serious damage.

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The Gospel reading this morning suggests that the disciples who abandoned Jesus initially thought that their risen rabbi was going to be angry, vindictive and perhaps violent. When they first saw him, they were terrified and deeply afraid. This is not because he looked like some kind of zombie but because they thought he was a terrible ghost who would forever haunt them, reminding them of their cowardice and failure, asking them, “Why did you deny me? Why did you abandon me? Why did you betray me? Why did you leave me alone to suffer and die?”

But instead Jesus asks, “Why are you so frightened?” and then “Do you have anything to eat?” The disciples were beside themselves with joy and disbelief. The text says they were overwhelmed with wonder. Not only were they obviously in sheer awe of this man who had risen from the dead, they were also completely thrown off by his playful and almost impish personality. G. K. Chesterton said, “There was… one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” In Luke’s portrayal of the Risen Christ, we get glimpses of this mirth. We catch a glimpse here and also when he meets his disciples on the road to Emmaus. You can imagine him smiling to himself while the disciples, who think they are talking to a stranger, inform and “enlighten” him about this prophet named Jesus who died…

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There is no hint of anger or violence in this risen and playful Christ who says, “Touch me…look at my hands and feet…watch me eat…Let’s have Bible study while I finish this delicious broiled fish.” The disciples are absolutely baffled, disarmed and captivated by their Risen Lord not just because they are undergoing something beyond any previous human experience but also because they are experiencing resurrection as forgiveness. Jesus explains to them that this has been the thrust of the Scriptures from the beginning, from the Law of Moses to the prophets, to the psalms, the message has been forgiveness. He says, “Forgiveness is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” In other words, “You are witnesses because you have experienced resurrection as forgiveness. You have experienced the Messiah as one who responds to your cowardice and cruelty with an empowering forgiveness that will change you and your life forever.”[1]

An empowered Peter boldly proclaims the good news of this forgiveness in Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 3. He preaches, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins be wiped out” (Acts 3:19), so that you may also experience resurrection as forgiveness. Also, last week, when Jesus appeared to the disciples (sans Thomas), he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and then empowered them with forgiveness.

As followers of Christ, we are empowered with forgiveness. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to embody the presence of the Risen and Forgiving Christ in the world today. We are empowered to show the world that “Jesus Uncrossed” is “Forgiveness Uncrossed” by forgiving one another and by receiving forgiveness ourselves. This can be extremely challenging and may take a lifetime to integrate, especially when dealing with abuse, neglect, and trauma. Surprisingly, receiving forgiveness can also be challenging and difficult, since it calls us to be vulnerable and to acknowledge the ways in which we abandon, deny and betray others. Receiving forgiveness calls us to acknowledge the ways in which we contribute to or benefit from a system that continues to slowly crucify Christ among the hurting, the hungry and the homeless people in our world today.

Several years ago, back in 2007, there was a radio conversation on the BBC between two unlikely conversation partners: Ricky Gervais, a famous comedian and the writer of the British TV show The Office, and Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time. Ricky Gervais, who is very open about his atheism, said that although he does not believe in God he basically lives his life as a Christian in terms of his morals, and the virtue that he upheld as an indication of his Christian moral lifestyle was forgiveness, which he called “the greatest virtue” and “the greatest thing” in general. Rowan Williams, who could barely get a word in edgewise because of Ricky’s hyper personality and loud interruptions, said quietly and generously, “I think it’s really interesting that you should say forgiveness is what makes you Christian because I think that’s absolutely right and I think it’s the hardest thing of all.”

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The conversation continued with Ricky Gervais reaffirming his atheist position, bombarding the Archbishop with a barrage of questions and giving him almost no time to respond. At the end of the conversation, the host (Simon Mayo) asked Rowan Williams, “Do you think he’s a secret Christian underneath the atheist façade?” The Archbishop responded warmly, saying, “I’ll give him time.” Then Ricky Gervais exclaimed, “Well, whatever I do, God will forgive me. So I can’t lose.” At this, Rowan Williams said quietly and with a note of gravity, “As long as you’re ready to receive it.”

As long as you’re ready to receive it.

The resurrection asks us, “Are we ready to receive forgiveness?” Are we ready to receive forgiveness as we encounter the One who has been abandoned, denied, betrayed, tortured and crucified? The resurrection asks us if we are ready to receive forgiveness as we encounter “Jesus Uncrossed” who comes to us with no hint of anger or vengeance but with a playful love; who comes to us as “Forgiveness Uncrossed,” embodying himself in this community and in the bread and wine, which we share together now.

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[1] According to theologian James Alison, “The resurrection is forgiveness.” Alison, Knowing Jesus, (Springfield IL: Templegate Publishers, 1994), 6.

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