A good friend challenged me recently, rightly and graciously, after I had presided at the Eucharist.
For him it was important that I, as priest, pronounced forgiveness : “May God forgive you . . .”
I have usually said “May God forgive us . . .”, feeling as unworthy as anybody and therefore in a kind of solidarity.
But this friend felt that the fact and role of priest is to pronounce words of forgiveness “from God
to the people.” This is true. Yet the priest looks both ways. He or she represents God to the people (= for-gives you) and the voice of the people to God (= forgives us)
You may have a personal view and preference on this. The words said may depend on the context
and theme of a particular service, sometimes ‘you’ sometimes ‘us’. Since I always use the ‘you’ form in the final blessing I think I am persuaded also of my priestly role and may now say ‘forgive you at the ab-solution. It’s not me of course, or any priest, who forgives. God forgives.
Like most priests I haven’t the scholarship to dazzle with my knowledge of the original Greek of the New Testament. However, I love the few Greek words I do know, like aphesis, the word used for forgiveness. It has a very modern psychological ring to it. ‘Aphesis’ – ‘letting go or relaxing tension.’
Like the Cheltenham Race Course, for instance. The starting line, the tapes go up. Go!
Away they go. A setting free. Free to move, to gallop, free to love, (maybe not the horses)
free to try again, to start again. Free. The letting go. The playwright Samuel Beckett echoes this :
“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Letting go all that has held us back. And what about people who hurt us along the way?
It takes time. Even to think of them, let alone pray for them. And slowly we reach a place where we can ask blessing on them, good for them, even if our hurt remains for a while. Or longer.
Letting go. Letting go. Let the words echo and bounce and set us free, allowing the words to let
us go free, set us free. One liturgy has “God forgives you, forgive others, forgive yourselves”
And as priest – ‘may the Lord forgive you.’ And as priest – ‘may the Lord forgive us.’ Amen.
On we go . . .