The Holy Spirit also testifies to us…
“I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds….
I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Hebrews 10:15-18 (NRSV)
The focus of this Good Friday reflection is from the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter was written to early Christians whose new faith had subjected them to persecution, imprisonment, and loss of property. The writer is encouraging them to continue in faith and in doing good works because their hardships had not been in vain. The 10th Chapter in particular presents the Crucifixion as the eternal plan of God focused in Jesus Christ and encourages the people to see that fateful day as the reason for them to engage a new way of life made possible through the Cross event.
According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe (the ten High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes they have been forgiven by God.[i]
In ancient times, the high priest of the temple had a very special function on Yom Kippur. Only on this one day each year, the high priest would go behind the temple curtain, enter the Holy of Holies, and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the Ark of the Covenant. This liturgical action had the effect of cleansing the whole of Israel from sin and renewing their covenant relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews regarded the self-sacrifice of Jesus as replacing, once and for all, the need for this annual ritual of atonement.
A common Christian interpretation of the Crucifixion is that Jesus is both the Sacrificial Lamb and the High Priest. He offered himself unto death as the ultimate, once and forever, sacrificial atonement for human sin. Because the temple curtain was torn open as he died, not only the high priest, but also everyone else then had direct access to God. When he died, Jesus then took his own blood into the heavenly sanctuary and sprinkled it before God in the holiest place of the heavenly temple. Through Jesus’ death and blood sacrifice, there is no longer a need for further sacrifices because God forgave human sin forever. For those who choose to respond to this act of God’s love, there is now only eternal love and forgiveness.
Since God has already forgiven us, I wonder what would happen if Christians chose Good Friday as the one day out of the year when we live as forgiven people. Forgiven people are not motivated by fear. Forgiven people do not harbor resentments. Forgiven people do not abuse others. Forgiven people do not lie, cheat, or steal. Forgiven people forgive people.
I think now of such people as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each of them had been persecuted and imprisoned for daring to proclaim to their oppressors that all lives matter. Yet, in spite of the horrible ways that they had been treated and the multiple losses that they had endured, they did not become embittered and seek revenge against those who had done them so wrong. Instead, they forgave their oppressors, continuing on as forgiven people to lead non-violent struggles for justice that changed human history.
Can you imagine the impact it could have if people the world over would seek and grant forgiveness on Good Friday? If we did this as people who God has already forgiven, I believe that the wrongs we do against one another would be set right. Every attitude of oppression, bigotry, and bias would be transformed into acts of compassion, mercy, and love. Wars would cease, and the hungry would be fed, as swords are turned into plowshares. Mother Earth would be healed, broken relationships would be mended, and all lives really would matter because on that day justice would roll like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Though I might be wrong, I cannot help but believe that such a Good Friday Revolution just might be the thing that is needed most. Indeed, forgiveness is what it will take for us to transform ourselves as we transform the world.