Take a deep breath and then slowly let it out. Your lungs just filled with air, that life-giving substance that is all around you and is necessary for life. We each take about 20,000 such breaths a day. Without breathing, you’d quickly die. Breathing forms a natural rhythm to our lives.
The Christian Church also has such a rhythm. A back and forth to her life that is as much a part of it as breathing is to your life. It is the forgiveness of sins. You get a glimpse of this rhythm in the Lord’s Prayer, as we pray “Forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.” We are forgiven and now are called to forgive. I encourage my members to make this prayer, taught to us by Christ, a daily part of their devotional life. For many reasons, but partly because it captures so well this natural rhythm to the Christian life.
The life of a Christian is all about forgiveness: forgiveness received and forgiveness given. This is the life of the church. One cannot breathe out unless one breathes in. We are unable to give to others what we haven’t first received. Thanks be to God, we receive such forgiveness through Him. The blood of Christ is our redemption and the source of the forgiveness of all our sins (Eph. 1:7). He delights in forgiving us all our sins and by so doing uniting us to Himself.
Having received this forgiveness, we are called now also to forgive others. The “as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us” part of the Lord’s Prayer. The Christian is not to be a solid wall against which forgiveness flows and is stopped up, but instead a leaky gate which receives the torrent of forgiveness flowing forth from God and which then extends from us into the lives of our neighbors.
In our church, all we do has at its basis the forgiveness of sins. First given in the waters of Holy Baptism (Acts 22:16), then heard anew every Sunday in the words of forgiveness spoken by our pastor (John 20:22-23), and made physical in the Lord’s Supper given to us for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:27-28). The forgiveness of sins won for us by Christ is the basis of every sermon, the content of our hymns, and the foundation of our Christian lives.
In John 20, Jesus Himself literally breathes forgiveness into His disciples, calling them now to breathe it back out into the world. So it is with us. We cannot breathe out what we haven’t first breathed in. Forgiveness is the breath of the church. The weekly, daily, continual receiving and giving of forgiveness keeps her alive. This is a good rhythm! It is as important to our spiritual lives as breathing is to our physical lives. Breathe in and receive the blood-bought forgiveness of your crucified and risen Lord, and then breathe out that same forgiveness into the world. By God’s grace, it should be as natural to us as breathing is.
Jeffrey Dock, Trinity and Good Shepherd Lutheran, “Giving credit where it is due, I am indebted to Rev. Christopher Maronde and his Bible study in the most recent Lutheran Witness magazine for the basis of this article and the idea of forgiveness as the church’s breath.”