“The way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection — the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”
Marcus J. Borg, ‘Reading the Bible Again for the First Time’.
“We want him to know that, first of all, we forgive him. We forgive him because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what daddy taught us. It’s the way we was raised…”
Over the past few days, we have been blessed with two Easter stories, one from 1st century Judea, and one from present-day Cleveland. The first tends to get lost in the shuffle of candy-filled baskets, ham dinners, and verbose prayers describing lamb’s blood and burnt offerings. Maybe that’s why the second one happened. To remind us of the very simple, yet powerful, truth of the Easter Story. It’s a truth that every single one of us can embrace and enjoy and practice within our own lives, whether you’re a Jesus Freak, like me, or an agnostic, or an atheist.
Now, to understand the second story, we must take a quick look at the first, and, in doing so, I’m going to strip away what some secular critics would call the ‘hocus pocus’ of a religion that claims a man walked on water and rose from the dead. For the moment, forget He was the Son of God, as many of us believe, and let’s examine the bare bones of the Easter story for what the late Biblical scholar, Marcus Borg, would call its “more than literal” meaning.
In a violent and narcissistic age, an itinerant rabbi preaches a self-effacing philosophy of love and forgiveness. “Don’t hate your enemies,” he says, “love your enemies.”
Whoa. In an era where entire families are nailed to crosses along the Roman highway, who wants to hear that crap? Forgive, Hell. It’s not possible. Screw the Roman filth! Murderers and rapists! Where’s your sword of fire, Jesus? Kill ’em. Kill ’em all.
Of course, such simple teachings were also deeply disturbing to the high priests of the established church. In their collective narcissism, they viewed Jesus’ growing celebrity as a threat to their power base, and so, along with the Roman authority, they conspired to have him falsely accused of sedition and then executed in the most horrific, and public, way possible.
What does the dusty rabbi from the desert do with his final breath on Earth? Does he curse the priests and the Romans, who were responsible for torturing him to death? Does he curse Peter for denying him, or Judas for betraying him? Does he curse the mob, some of whom had been waving palm fronds upon his arrival into the Holy City just a few days before, and now were spitting on him and pelting him with rocks?
No. Wow. He does something really strange. He forgives them. In fact, his last act is to pray for their forgiveness, because, in his words, “they don’t know what they’re doing.” In this one act of humility and love, Jesus, the Teacher, put his own philosophy into action for all the world to see.
Again, don’t worry about whether or not you believe that Jesus himself was resurrected.
What survived on that first Easter over two-thousand years ago for believer and atheist alike was the truth of his teachings, that forgiveness itself is a cleansing and spiritual act that leads to new life. Think about it in terms of your own experiences. I know that when I have hate or ill-will in my heart for someone I believe has wronged me, a part of me dies inside. Every single grudge we hold and every little bit of hate we nurture is a chunk of death we swallow whole and never quite digest. Jesus understood this, even if his own followers didn’t.
And, apparently, so did Robert Godwin, Sr., which brings us to our second Easter story.
A kindly grandfather from Ohio, who raised his family with a self-effacing philosophy of love and forgiveness, is crucified with a gun in a very public way by the ultimate narcissist, Steve Stephens. Like Judas, the high priests, and the Romans, Godwin’s killer is the polar opposite of his teachings. He is a man filled with rage and vengeance. For Stephens, Robert Godwin is little more than a prop in his twisted, self-serving melodrama of revenge, played out for the whole world to see on Facebook. In this, we are all complicit members of the mob, as we downloaded the video and watched with dropped jaws.
What happens next is breath-taking, especially considering our own violent and narcissistic era.
Certainly, no one would blame the family of Robert Godwin for cursing their loved one’s killer. But they don’t. Like Jesus, they do something very strange. They forgive him. They pray for his forgiveness, because, in their words, “he’s a sick individual.” Forgive him, Lord, for he didn’t know what he was doing. Magnificent. Beautiful. Inspiring.
In this single act of forgiveness, Robert Godwin, Sr., is risen from the dead. Maybe not his body, but his spirit and his love transcend his murder and will continue to live forever in not only the hearts of his family and friends, but also in our hearts, if we’re open to it. If we can see the Easter in his story. If we can learn to forgive the way Robert Godwin would forgive.
I believe every single one of us has the capacity for it, although I am far from that place myself. I can be a very spiteful man, and sometimes, even my grudges have grudges. It all feels kind of silly today, though. Silly and selfish. It truly is ridiculous the petty crap we hold onto.
Still, I am a man of faith, and as someone who believes the hocus-pocus of a religion that claims a man walked on water and rose from the dead, I also don’t think Robert Senior’s last name is a coincidence:
Godwin. God wins.
God did win, both in Judea and in Cleveland, despite the overwhelming presence of evil.
Time, now, for the rest of us to start working on that forgiveness-thing. Maybe a good place to start is with ourselves…?
God bless the Godwin family. Thank you for showing the rest of us The Way.