Repentance and forgiveness are a combination – perhaps THE combination – at the heart of Christianity. This week’s readings are unusually focused in driving home this message as the core proclamation of the Resurrection. In three different scriptural contexts, the same thing is said: the resurrection of Jesus means the call to repentance and forgiveness.
How do we hear that too-familiar statement in new, fresh ways? It’s evident that when our scriptural authors are writing this, they mean to be communicating something of the greatest importance and urgency. The image of Peter’s listeners at Pentecost is apt: they were “cut to the heart.”
One thing we might notice is that this message of repentance and forgiveness is not simply a Lenten one, but an Easter one. At one level, we are right that there is a Lenten turning-around, a confessional-like dynamic that is meant in the call to repentance. But there is a deeper level. Robert Barron in one of his earliest books writes about metanoia as a matter of “going beyond the mind you have.” In the Easter context, this notion of (quite literally) “blowing your mind” is much more fitting. What Jesus’s resurrection means is that we are stuck in a certain shrunken mindset. Barron describes it as a way of seeing dominated by the ego and thus fearful. In one way or another, it’s a mindset that has ceased to imagine the possibilities now being brought about in Christ’s resurrection. The call is to expanding your possibilities of seeing what is going on. That is undoubtedly why we find Peter and Jesus explaining the Scriptures in this context. They are like, “Don’t you get it? The world is not working the way you think it is. Go beyond the mind you have!”
Another way to put it might be: “Realize how much you’ve messed up.” That’s certainly the context of the first reading this week, but of course the appearances to the apostles throughout the Easter season involve fear not only of the authorities, but of Jesus Himself, whom they abandoned in various ways. Realize how much you’ve messed up… and peace be with you. Now that’s mind-bogging. The offer of forgiveness of sins is surely a matter of our daily sins, our commandment-violations, as the second reading alludes to. But here again, there’s a deeper level that the other readings in this Easter setting illumine. Forgiveness means you betrayed, you denied, you killed God’s messiah. You failed in as important a way as a Jewish person in that context could fail. And what’s on offer? Forgiveness of your sins.
That’s not the way the world usually works, and it’s especially not the way power usually works. But then, the whole Gospel is about the death of that world, or at least its unmasking. Go beyond the mind of that dead world. The dead world’s mind is the mind of power struggles, of vanquishing your enemies decisively with your great might, of remembering every grievance so that it can be weaponized when needed. And it’s not simply that that world is not a very nice place to live. The Resurrection says: that’s just not the real world, not God’s world. The real world is the world that has shown, in Jesus’ resurrection, that it is the decisive one. As Father Michael Byron eloquently said in his amazing Easter homily during the terrible early days of COVID, when we were asking how soon all this would be over: the joyous news of Easter is “it’s already over.” Jesus’s world is the world that constantly pushes all of us to go beyond the minds we have, minds so tied to our worldly battles. Go beyond those minds. And when you realize how much that means we’ve all messed up, then know that the response is the forgiveness of sins, insofar as we are forgiving to others.
That’s a reason for Easter joy. If we do in fact forgive others, conscious of our own failures, our own small minds. If not, well, then it’s always Lent. It’s never over.