Day 6: Forgiveness

Lincoln Today in the USA it is Presidents' Day. As I ponder the theological angles of forgiveness and US Presidents I am reminded of the complicated relationship Americans have with their esteemed executive leaders.

In my childhood I recall my grandmother reveling in the Camelot years of the Kennedy's. As a teen I recall voting for Carter with the zeal of a righteous 'know-it-all'. In my early 20's I was relieved to find that my voting record did not factor into my service as an intern in the Reagan White House.  Phew! You see, 1980’s Washington had a category for what might be perceived as ‘youthful indiscretion’.  It was forgiven.

O, how I miss the spirit of bipartisanship.

This afternoon I read the transcript of a story from “This American Life” about the complicated and fascinating relationship between those close to President Lincoln and those close to his would-be assassin John Wilkes Booth (who stood on March 4th 1865 just a few yards away from Lincoln).

Let's enter the story here:

Narrator: On March 4th, 1865, more than 50,000 people gathered under rainy skies to witness Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. After four harrowing years, the end of the war was at last in sight. Lincoln stood to address the crowd, just as a brilliant ray of light pierced the clouds overhead. “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in,” Lincoln implored, “to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace”.

David Blight, historian: There’s not even a moment of bitterness. There’s not even the slightest declaration of what will be done with Confederate leadership. It is remarkable that in a moment like that, in this country that has all but won a victory in an all-out, terrible, total civil war, and he doesn’t even spend one sentence to declare the righteousness of victory and the evil of Confederate defeat.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian: What he does is to suggest that the sin of slavery was shared by both sides. His way of reaching out to the south: “Both sides read the same bible, both prayed to the same God, neithers prayers were fully answered.”

Prayer: O gracious God who hears the prayers of all sides; forgive us our misplaced passions and indiscretions. May we seek this day in our Lenten journey to live "with malice toward none, with charity for all".  Teach us what it means to be people of forgiveness; to be those who bind up wounds. For the sake of your kingdom on earth and in heaven. Amen.

To read the full transcript click here.

For further reflection: Lincoln was shot on Good Friday 1865. Three days later in pulpits across America, and around the world, a message of hope and resurrection was needed on Easter Sunday.  In this context, what might you have shared about the truth of the Gospel and forgiveness?