In keeping with a long high church tradition of Good Friday services, my church maintains its own Good Friday service. What this amounts to is a service in which the seven last statements of Christ on the cross are taken and reflected upon (in our church by different speakers). The flow of the evening has at first a worship song, then a reflection, then a moment of silence, and then repeat, working through each reflection that way. This year I was asked to take the first reflection, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” The following is my reflection from that service. I do find this exceptionally fitting for a father-blog.
Good Friday Service, 2017
“Father, forgive them they know not what they do.”
I was four years old, my sister only a little over 6 months, when my father left my mother. He left her with a four year old, a 6 month old, a brand new motel business. and a brand new puppy, which was eventually re-gifted by him to my paternal grandfather.
It would be twenty years before a Christian Counselor would put a word to the feelings and issues with which I struggled for those 2 decades since my father had left. He said I had suffered “abandonment” issues. That explained a lot. He also spoke to a fear which I had harbored but never articulated. “Kevin,” he said very emphatically, “you did not make your daddy go away.”
Cue the “A-Ha Moment” … That’s indeed what I had felt and believed in the hidden, secreted shadows of my heart.
“Father, forgive them. They not what they do.”
When my father left, he opened a chasm in my mind, in my heart, between me and him, and his entire side of the family. Their taking sides fueled that sense. With his new marriage he communicated he didn’t want our old family. Woe be the day my half-sister was born – he had the new kid he wanted. Soon, my dad and I easily just lost touch during high school, and he was all but forgotten by me throughout college.
It was after college, when I had been walking with Christ for roughly a total of 8 years my father reached out to me through my maternal grandmother. His father had died, the funeral was impending, and he wanted to see me there. Leave it to Mark Proeger to tell me I should go to the funeral and speak grace to my father. Allow me to be frank, here: I was going out of obedience and only because it was “right” to forgive as I had been forgiven. I did not go seeking for nor I was thinking it was going to be some grand hallmark moment in which we would embrace and broken tears would stream down our face washing away all those years of hurt feelings.
I’ll leave out the part where I got to my home town and, frantic, had to call Mark to remind me why I was there. I’ll leave out the awkward reunion at the funeral hall. I’ll leave out sitting next to my grieving father, or the awkward ride to the graveside with a teenage half-sister I just plain didn’t know.
The family left the funeral services and went to my father’s restaurant. It was there, somewhere in the kitchen that I pulled my dad aside and fumbled through some hybridized proffer of forgiveness and forced gospel presentation all sorta mushed together. It was then that I learned, one year prior to my having received Christ my father had received Christ, right there over one of his restaurant tables.
I don’t think I knew what to do with it right then, that revelation that my father had accepted Christ, and at best I was scared for what it meant. You would have thought I would have been happy to have my father back, but he was only a stranger whom I knew.
What did happen was this: In that moment between my father and I Christ had become a bridge over a chasm, suspended by the cables of His broken body, girded with the iron of His shed blood, trestled at its two ends by the wood of a splintery cross. We had Christ and Salvation in common. Both oddly and understandably it was more than we had ever had.
“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
There’s a verse from the Epistle to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-9:
“5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,a 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,b 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. “
<English Standard Version>
In recent years since, i’ve wondered how much More I might be as a person if I hadn’t been so emotionally stunted by my father not thinking rightly enough of me to have stayed. On a particularly grumpy-at-my-absentee-dad sort of days, one of those days on which I felt equal enough to God to have any place to be angry, God spoke somewhere deep in my spirit that I could not understand my father’s experience.
It wasn’t a sense like “Forgive him my son, he knew not what he was doing,” but, it was a sense more like “you can not know his experience, you can not know what it was like to have had to walk even one of the very miles walked in his moccasins.” So to speak.
In such an emotional place as that I had and have to ask, ‘“Father, forgive me, I know not what I am doing… I know not what I am doing when I hold him to some expectation that he should act or have thought of things differently and acted in a different way.”
It is funny thing but from a that place of not counting equality with God something to be grasped, that forgiving-because-I-Don’t-know seems right.