Forgiveness Fridays: The challenge of forgiveness by Amy Robinson

Godspell, a villanelle, and forgiveness – I love the richness and variety of my guest writers. I hope you’re as intrigued as I was to read Amy Robinson’s post!

Have you ever seen the 1973 film version of Godspell – the one starring Victor Garber? It’s well worth a watch if you haven’t. The script uses sections of Matthew’s Gospel to frame a story in which Jesus and the disciples are a sort of Vaudeville acting troupe performing parables around New York. It surprises me every time I watch it, because from somewhere among the facepaints, rainbow clothing and rocking music, the sheer unexpected force of the words of Jesus leaps out and hit me sideways.

Photo courtesy of Everett Collection.

There’s a scene early on in the film when the new, excited troupe are acting the parable of the unforgiving servant. The master forgives his servant a huge debt, but the servant then goes on to refuse to forgive a much smaller debt, so the master orders him to be captured. The troupe performs the arrest and then, with great relish, they pretend to torture the servant. In the middle of their fun, Jesus says casually over his shoulder, “And so will my heavenly father repay you, if you do not forgive…” and they all look up at him aghast, the wind taken right out of their sails.

This challenge of forgiveness at the heart of Christianity is summed up in the two lines of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In the comma between those two lines is hidden a huge effort of will and grace as we make the leap between accepting forgiveness for ourselves and offering it to others.

The following poem is a villanelle, which is a strict form that takes two repeating, rhyming lines through the poem, only bringing them together as a couplet at the end. It seemed right for a meditation on these two lines from the Lord’s prayer, which are together in one breath and yet sometimes so far apart in my ability to pray and mean them.

Forgive me, Lord, my sins, and make me free.
But next, the hardest line of all to say:
“As I forgive the ones who once hurt me”.

My lips repeat the words reluctantly:
my heart rebels and struggles to obey.
Forgive me, Lord, my sins, and make me free,

and help me in your constant light to see
my foes, my friends, and all my yesterday
as I forgive the ones who once hurt me,

because their debt and mine, one endless fee,
was what you gave your perfect life to pay.
Forgive me, Lord, my sins, and make me free,

and by your grace and love hand me the key
that opens up this dungeon to the day
as I forgive the ones who once hurt me.

Oh Lord, who spoke those words upon the tree,
who while still hurting prayed, teach me to pray:
Forgive me, Lord, my sins; and make me free,
as I forgive, the ones who once hurt me.

Amy Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller and ventriloquist, and benefice children’s worker for four Suffolk church communities. She has published three books with Kevin Mayhew, writes scripts and resources for www.GenR8.org and blogs a bit at www.amystoryteller.com. She lives in a rectory with the rector, two children and lots of puppets. You can find her on Twitter at @Ameandme and at Facebook. Read her contribution to the “There’s No Place Like Home” series here.

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