Summary: Forgiveness, the Triumph of the Cross, the Victory of Salvation
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
A great friend of mine at Mirfield had come to study with us all the way from the Melanesian Islands in the South Pacific. His name was Brother George and he was a Priest and a member (indeed the Novice Master) of the Melanesian Brotherhood, a monastic order on the Solomon Islands. He told us of a tribe on one of the many islands which has only 3 numbers: 1, 2 & many - beyond that the numbers are irrelevant: one pig, two pigs, many pigs. Much in the same way, as we encounter in this morning’s Gospel, in terms of the amount owed, the numbers are irrelevant, in terms of forgiveness, the numbers are irrelevant.
For the benefit of simple and barely literate fishermen, Seventy times Seven is probably about the biggest number Peter could possibly conceive. The number itself is irrelevant, it is the action of forgiveness that we should concentrate on.
I don’t know how many times… in fact I have lost count of the number of times that I have fallen into sin, and that is just this morning! Seriously, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 51: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” - Time & again we sin, almost without realising it: one sin, two sins, many sins, just like the Melanesians and yet time & again we are forgiven. And this forgiveness is demonstrated nowhere more fully than with the core symbol of the Christian faith – paraded as we entered this morning, glorious on the altar before us, and broodingly above me as I speak now, the Cross.
Yesterday was the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, and it is with today’s theme of forgiveness that we can properly place into context the true significance of that triumph. At the time it occurred, of course, the death of Christ at the hands of evil men appeared to be a disaster, a humiliation, a death in the manner of a common criminal and in the words which seep through the humiliation of the psalms, a sign of reproach for all. And yet, from those depths, comes victory, comes the overcoming of death and the symbol of our hope in Christ. In the topsy-turvy world that is the Christian faith, what appeared like folly to the learned Greeks, was revealed to be more than wisdom, as St. Paul wrote.
The meaning of the Cross, therefore, was not humiliation, but victory, a genuine triumph, and the cry from the cross of Our Lord – “it is completed” is a statement of fact, not a personal admission of defeat – not “I am finished”, but “It is completed”. It was not a transaction or a barter with a jealous God, but a demonstration of his love, a witness to his preparedness to give to us.
Last week I spoke of the debt of love, and this week we see it played out, for the triumph of the cross is a direct result of that love, that forgiveness for our sins, far beyond seventy times seven is what enables us to meet with Christ in this Mass and at every other Mass celebrated daily in this church.