"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Or debts or sins in some versions. We usually translate Matthew’s original text as “debts,” but they follow up the prayer with a bit about forgiving others their “trespasses.” Those all can mean different things and, at times, we’ve made a point of trying to clarify exactly what’s being forgiven but, frankly, it ought to include all of them. Forgiveness ought to be whole. Let's stick with the action part for now, though, the forgiving.
I think this should remind us that the action of forgiveness flows to, and from, us, that we can forgive because we are already forgiven. If we're asking God to forgive like we do, we're definitely in trouble because we’re not very good at it. So I think Jesus wants us to know that the power of forgiveness is in us, literally to give, because God's grace is for all and is freely given. We pray that we might know that strength and use it just as freely. That’s why it’s a petition and not just a statement.
We should know, then, that forgiveness isn't conditional on repentance, changed behaviour, changed circumstance or retribution. Forgiveness is, most importantly, freely given. It is not about the response, but the giving. The freedom it offers, the wholeness it extends, comes first to the forgiver and from there opens the opportunity for reconciliation and relationship. Nelson Mandela always talked about how, when he was finally released from prison, he needed to leave the bitterness and hatred behind or he’d still be in prison. “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear,” he said.
That's why we should never "forgive and forget" or, sorry Elsa, “let it go." Forgive and remember. Remember that forgiveness was given and that the experience - all of it - has become part of our life and can inform our living.
Forgiveness is hard, yes it is. It is one thing to talk about, but a different thing entirely when you are faced with doing it. "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive," C. S. Lewis wrote. And yet, Jesus calls us to live into our being "created in the image of God." Within us is the power to forgive, unconditionally, and free ourselves from the bonds of unforgiving, of blame, anger and hate.
I don’t recall Jesus ever saying it was going to be easy, only that it would be rewarding. Truly, deeply, wholly rewarding.