Sometimes a week’s chosen readings don’t lend themselves, to my mind, to anything even approaching great insights. Such is the case with today’s readings: Acts 3:12-19 as the first lesson, then Psalm 4, then 1 John 3:1-7 as the Epistle, and then the Gospel of Luke 24:36-48.
The only common theme I can find in these readings is that of a righteous cycle: Try to sin not; in your hope/trust/faith in God’s mercy/Christ’s mercy, your sins will be forgiven — the comfort of knowing which should lead you to be less inclined to sin.
Or something like that.
The first letter of John lays it out most clearly. The second sentence of the first verse should be very familiar to devotees of the 1928 Anglican prayer book: “If any many sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
But what’s interesting is that a sentence precedes that one: “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not.”
If you think about this logically, at least to modern ears, it’s a little backwards. John writes in order that we not sin — but what he writes is that through Christ our sins have been forgiven. So if he writes in order that we sin not, then shouldn’t he be telling us something that makes us fear to sin rather than something that reassures us that our sins will be washed away?
The payoff, or explanation, comes in verse 6: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.”
In other words, the proof is in the pudding.
To be truly washed clean from sin is not to see the promised washing as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but as a release from the very desire to do wrong in the future. To truly understand the grace of a clean slate is to rejoice in the keeping of the slate clean thereafter.
As the penultimate verse of today’s Gospel tells us, it is not mere forgiveness that counts, but a clean conscience as well — in other words, a true embrace of the good.
The Italics in Luke 24:47 are mine: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.” Not mere remission, but remittance conjoined with repentance.
Only that ways lies true remittance, true forgiveness.
Redemption may not be ours to earn. But, if we will only walk His walk, it is ours to accept.