"Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. This proves God's love for us . . . in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven." - then after the leader says all that, the people say back: "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven."
I'm not a preacher. I'm a music minister. But sometimes I get the pleasure of reading one of my favorite liturgical pieces, and today I read this one. And the congregation said back to me, "You are forgiven." Everything inside my heart relaxes when I hear those words - and I feel such joy when I say them to other people.
These are my "Pete The Cat" shoes. I wear them to school. Music teachers have the pleasure of learning about all kinds of cartoon characters. A couple of years ago some kindergarten students introduced me to "Pete the Cat." Not long after that, my Aunt Sally, who teaches 1st grade, gave me a "Pete The Cat" book for my classroom. It was about Pete the Cat and his brand new white shoes.
Friends, Pete is a cool cat. His eyelids are always halfway down and he looks like he could not possibly be more chilled out. Nothing bothers him. During the story of the shoes he is given a pair of perfect white sneakers. He loves them so much that he writes a song about them and walks around singing it.
I know what you're thinking - What happens to the sneakers????
He steps in a bunch of stuff. You name it, he steps in it. His shoes do not stay perfect and white. They change color several times. Then in the end he finally gets to wash them off . . . . and they end up wet and squishy. They squeak when he walks.
You're expecting the cat to get upset, right?
But he doesn't! Every time something happens to the shoes, he just makes up a new verse to the song and "keeps walking along."
Yesterday I talked about how Brother Lawrence wrote to his friends concerning his work in the monastery kitchen. He talked about making mistakes and how he chose to handle that. He sought God's forgiveness. Then he moved on. He moved on right away.
This is not one of my strongest songs. But it's totally how I feel when I move through that awesome communion liturgy. I believe that Brother Lawrence had it right - we have to accept the forgiveness of God right then - right when we talk with God about it. Really? It's already been. God has forgiven us. But we are temporal creatures and we need to experience things in time. So we ask God when we run across our stumbling blocks - Can you ever forgive me?
God has already spoken the everlasting "Yes."
I have a confession. I knew ahead of time that we'd be taking part in communion today in church. I love the whole ritual surrounding it, so I was excited about church this morning. And even after I spoke the confession and pardon, leading the congregation in those words . . . . I stumbled head on into my old friend - envy.
It doesn't even matter why. The thing that matters is how long it took me to remember that God, with the infinite patience of something more than human, still loves me. I realized that I was meandering down that dangerous path midway through the afternoon - that I was sinking into envy. I said something to God about it. But instead of accepting that it was ok for me to move on? I spent a couple more hours wallowing in my sorrow over having felt envy in the first place.
Does that sound like waking up "to the moment" or "finally breathing" to you? I think not. It sounds (and feels) like suffocation.
Here I am, having just led the communion pardon, having just written yesterday about the unimaginable patience and love of God . . . . and I refuse to accept it.
Pete the Cat would find that sooooo uncool.
But - as Pete the Cat would say - "It's all good."
I will tell you why.
Have you ever tuned in to the last verse of "Amazing Grace"? It says, "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun."
I am not waiting that long. It started a long time ago and it continues right now. There is no such thing as lost time or wasted time with God. There just isn't. That's an idea from our own culture. We can throw that right out the window. We don't need that. Hey - we don't have time for that!
The idea of feeling sorry for our past struggles (including the struggles of 5 minutes ago) is an idea that kind of glorifies guilt. If we feel bad enough long enough about it, then we will make up for it. But there isn't anything to make up for.
I didn't grow up with "Turn or burn." theology. I don't tend to relate to God like that. And I hope to never relate to other human beings that way (especially considering the fact that God created those people and loves them).
But sometimes I embrace it without thinking. Sometimes I apply it to myself - "I am going to feel bad about this thing and isolate myself inside of it because that somehow will keep me from doing it again, and maybe it will make me seem more serious about my faith."
It's not necessary for us to be frightened into perfection. That is not the way to have full life. And it isn't a tactic we find in the words of Jesus. No indeed.
I made that little "New song every day" sign for my office wall so that maybe I'd trick myself into actually writing one song a day.
I haven't actually done that.
But it has become a reminder to me - Today is a new day. This minute is a new minute. Make like Brother Lawrence and keep moving! There is no lost time with God. God and I have forever together. We have awesome things to be getting on with right now. This isn't something God is asking me to worry about. It's done. It's over. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. You are forgiven. You. Are. Loved. Your very existence is part of God's love. The fact that you are able to acknowledge and move on? That's all part of the loving miracle.
And let's not forget Pete the Cat - He just kept walking along and singing his song . . . because it's all good.