Why think about sins and forgiveness during Easter time? What a bummer! Easter is a joyful time to celebrate new Life! It is thus surprising that repentance and forgiveness (acts we much more readily associate with Lent) figure so prominently in all three readings assigned to this Third Sunday of Easter. The readings suggest to us that we, unlike the disciples to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection, cannot look at, touch, see with our own eyes this Jesus who was dead and now is risen to new Life. Yet Jesus gives us another, just as concrete, means to come to belief in the new Life of resurrection. Repentance and forgiveness are themselves encounters with the risen Jesus, an invitation to deeper belief, and an experience of our own coming to a share in Jesus’ risen Life.
Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to grasp two things written in the Scriptures: that he “would suffer and rise from the dead,” and that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.” Our repentance—conversion of life—turns us to the God who forgives and who fills us with the new Life of the resurrection. Ultimately, this risen Life within us empowers a way of living that witnesses to God’s forgiveness of our sinfulness.
Our belief in the resurrection cannot be passive. Our belief in the risen Jesus is made visible when we “preach in his name” the kind of repentance leading to the new life of forgiveness. We encounter Jesus today when we repent of our sins and forgive others. Jesus “was made known” in the breaking of the bread and in repentance and forgiveness. Why is forgiveness so central to embracing Jesus’ risen Life? Being forgiven by God for our offenses means that the weakened or de¬stroyed relationship caused by sin is strengthened or restored. We become strong once again in the Life that God offers us. Forgiving others who have hurt us means that we are not controlled bytheir hurtful actions, a control that can lead to resentment, anger, hate. Forgiving another might not erase the hurt, but it does free us to live with compassion and joy. These are virtues of risen Life. This is risen Life: “You are forgiven.” This is our witness to the resurrection: “I forgive you.”
The resurrection claims us as witnesses not only to God’s forgiveness of us, but also to our forgiveness of one another. Repentance—conversion of life—opens new opportunities to touch and see the risen Jesus. Repentance opens us to God’s gift of forgiveness. Repentance opens us to the new Life of resurrec¬tion Jesus offers. Ultimately, the resurrection is a pledge of new Life for us and makes visible God’s forgiveness of our sinfulness. Forgiveness is part of the reality of risen Life; it is the effect of death and resurrection.
Repentance and forgiveness do not belong simply to Lent—there, that’s over for another year. Instead, they are very much a part of the Easter mystery. Forgiveness is the virtue that enables us not to allow past hurts to determine our decisions and actions in the here and now. Forgiveness opens up the space for creating together with the one forgiven a new future where we can “fall peacefully asleep” (responsorial psalm). Giving and receiving forgiveness is a resurrection activity. Walking and acting like a forgiven and forgiving people is how we make known the risen Jesus.