by J. Randal Matheny
Glenda Williams tells that in their jail ministry in Geneva, Alabama, when one prisoner was baptized, he felt so thankful for the forgiveness of his sins that he stood in the baptistry and wept for a long time.
Guilt is real. And though feelings of guilt don’t always reflect the truth, when it comes to our sins, we can’t feel guilty enough. The prisoner knew he was a sinner. He felt deeply the seriousness of his crimes against God, whatever they were.
We’d do well to picture ourselves in the poster hanging in the post office. The most dangerous and wanted criminals. We are the worst.
At the Lord’s supper, we remember our guilt.
Because it was our guilt–my guilt–that drove our Lord to the cross. He hung there, he suffered those beatings, and nails, and humiliation, he died there naked and alone, because we put him there.
Our guilt is not that we were the cause of his death. Our guilt is that we spurned our Maker, turned our backs on the Giver, shook our fist at the great Lover of man. Our deepest thought while we eat and think of the cross is not that we sent Jesus to the cross (the Father sent him there), but that the cross means forgiveness.
Yes, we must remain faithful, we must “walk in the light,” as John put it in 1 John 1:7, but even that means that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Our forgiveness is not only complete, but continuous.
And, yes, we must acknowledge our guilt, “confess our sins,” says John in verse 9, and when we do, we may know that “he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”
So around the table of the Lord, we have a wonderful opportunity, not to feel guilty, but to feel forgiven. Purified. Clean. Relieved. To be assured that that feeling reflect the reality of what has happened in heaven.
That our slate has indeed been wiped clean.
That the sentence against us, a hellish eternity far from the presence of God, has been cancelled.
That our names have been written in the book of life.
Whether it be the moment when the baptismal water rolls off our bodies, or as the bread is laid upon our tongues and the cup touches our lips, that forgiveness is present and active and real.
We may feel that forgiveness so strongly, sense that cleansing so deeply, that if we want to cry tears of joy, like the prisoner standing in the baptistry, we are at liberty to weep in gladness and wonder at the God who forgives all.
by J. Randal Matheny