Shortly before he died, the Rev’d Bill Warren told me about something he used to do every New Years’ Day with one of the congregations he served. He asked for their forgiveness. First, of course, he acknowledged his fallibility and that there were things left undone he ought to have done and things done he ought not to have done. Presumably, his congregation forgave him.
It’s not been our practice at St. Paul’s to have services on New Years’ Day (unless it falls on a Sunday, like it will this year), but there’s wisdom in seeking forgiveness from one another and in granting forgiveness to one another. New Years’ Day seems like a logical time to do it too, but in fact, it could be done anytime it’s needed.
Several times during our Sunday morning liturgy there are moments of seeking forgiveness. There is the obvious “Confession and Absolution,” but there are also the Prayers of the People, the Lord’s Prayer, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Peace, the Collect and other prayers, all of which either have or can have elements of forgiveness and reconciliation. Often we think of these moments as very personal, as being about me and God and, my confession and God’s forgiveness. But they can also be about our forgiveness of one another. The most obvious part of our liturgy that fits into this understanding is the Peace. We are, in that moment, offering God’s peace to one another and by doing so saying to one another “I love you” and “I forgive you.”
For me, the Peace is often the most powerful part of the liturgy. Forgiveness is a powerful force, but so is un-forgiveness. That is why I offer this warning as we begin a new calendar year together: woe to you who offer peace without forgiveness.