The most powerful worship experience of my life happened at last year’s Saturday Easter vigil at my church in Washington, D.C.
Beginning at 9 p.m. and stretching into the early morning, this four-hour long service starts out in a quiet, darkened sanctuary, an earthly reminder of the Tomb and our participation in Jesus’ death. During this time, we reflect on the great chasm between God and ourselves—not in a gloomy, self-flagellating way, but in a way that rightly prepares our hearts for what is to come.
Midway through the evening, a fantastic burst of light appears as the Pascal candle enters the room, and the whole congregation erupts in applause, shouts of joy and the ringing of bells. The Resurrection has come! Our reconciliation to our Creator is secure.
In the 40 days leading to Easter, some Christians choose to set apart this time in spiritual preparation of this great burst of Light. Often referred to as Lent, believers everywhere can be found giving up sweets or other indulgences as a commitment of spiritual discipline.
It seems that we humans are quite aware of our proneness to wander from the God we love, and so we consecrate the mundane in the hopes of re-ordering our hearts. Jesus Himself used bread and wine to symbolize the greatest hope of the Christian faith, so it makes sense to harness our everyday routines for the enrichment of our spiritual lives. But do our efforts truly get at the core of this great season of anticipation.
I often find that the 40-day period leading to Easter is regrettably under-utilized, perhaps because it is underestimated. Rather than an inconvenient ritual, perhaps half-designed to slim our waistlines, Lent is much more like the opening moments of the Easter vigil, a time to remember the ways we have lost the sense of God’s forgiveness, the ways we have ceased to see in vivid color the hope of the Cross. In this, Lent can be about more than just giving something up, and instead, become a time of simply giving.
When you think about forgiveness, the word “give” is literally at its center. God gave us the greatest gift possible when he forgave us through his Son. As His ambassadors of reconciliation, it is now our job to embody this forgiveness for the whole world. But how, exactly?
In 2006, I visited Rwanda to film a documentary called As We Forgive about genocide survivors who were forgiving the killers of their families in the wake of the 1994 genocide. I was particularly affected by a village started by Prison Fellowship Rwanda that had been built by the hands of repentant genocide perpetrators wanting to give the gift of a new home to their victims’ families. One widow who had just received a new home remarked to me, “How can I refuse to forgive when I’ve been forgiven by God myself?”
The forgiveness these survivors extended to their perpetrators was truly the greatest gift of mercy I have ever witnessed. It was the first time I understood the centrality of “giving” in forgiveness.
The audiences of As We Forgive responded so positively to this village that we decided to launch an initiative called Living Bricks to help more and more repentant killers build homes for their victims. The result is a burgeoning community founded on forgiveness called the Living Bricks Village.
This Lent, my desire has been to communicate Rwanda’s story of radical forgiveness to as many people as possible, in the hopes that it might inspire a deeper understanding of the days surrounding the Easter celebration. The As We Forgive team has just launched the “40 Days of 4-giveness,” a campaign to promote acts of giving and conversations about reconciliation across the country. We’re partnering with churches, universities and other organizations to host screenings of As We Forgive to engage communities in the “4 gives” at the heart of forgiveness:
One the main goals of these events is to encourage people to tangibly giveback by raising funding for the completion of the Living Bricks village of reconciliation in Rwanda. If we partner with 40 groups for 40 screenings and each reaches the goal of $5,000 per home, we will have finished the entire village!
To see former enemies—survivors and perpetrators of genocide—living peacefully side-by-side through reconciliation is one of the clearest pictures of Heaven I’ve glimpsed yet. It made me yearn for that moment of future glory when all things in heaven and on earth will be made right, including our eyes.
In that moment we will grasp the full magnitude of God’s love for us and our wonder will not wane—no longer will we need fasting and Lent and other earthly mechanisms to remind ourselves of Christ’s ultimate gift to us. Reconciliation will be the governing reality of all creation, and forgiveness the air that sustains us.
Laura Waters Hinson is the director and producer of the award-winning documentary, As We Forgive. She and her husband Tommy worship at the Church of the Advent in Washington, D.C. If you’d like to join the 40 Days of 4-giveness, host a screening, or learn more about the film, please visit: http://www.AsWeForgiveMovie.com.
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