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During this period, where we are unable to meet together in church, Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 31st May 2020.

My theme for today is Forgiveness. As we all know, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he included, in what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, the following words: “ … and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …” In other words, if we wish to be forgiven for our own sins, for the wrong we have done to others, then we need to be prepared to forgive others who have wronged us. But forgiving is not always easy.

I expect that, like me, many of you reading this reflection will be suffering during the past week from journo-indigestion over the Dominic Cummings affair. Every time I have turned on the radio or TV news during the past week, some journalist or interviewer has been asking one Government minister or another the same questions every day, which can be summarised as: Did the Prime Minister’s senior adviser break the lock down rules by taking his child to his sister in the north of England, so that she could look after the child whilst Dominic Cummings and his wife were both suffering from virus symptoms? Was he (to put it charitably) what Monty Python would describe as “a very naughty boy”?

According to one article in the Times a few days ago, 70% of people interviewed took the view – and were angry – that Mr. Cummings had broken the rules and therefore ought to be sacked. (Of course it doesn’t help his case that, if my reading of the mood of the nation is correct, a lot of people don’t like him and wanted him out of 10 Downing Street long before the lockdown restrictions.) There are others who take the view that he did not break the law and took reasonable steps in the circumstances to protect a vulnerable member of his family, namely, his child . I make no comment about either argument, but the question that has intrigued me all week is, would a hypothetical ‘Outraged of Tunbridge Wells’, who recites the Lord’s Prayer regularly, ever be able to forgive Mr. Cummings? Of course we will never know the answer. But it’s a difficult question, isn’t it? C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) said: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”

Most people during their lives will have been hurt by somebody and some may have found it difficult to forgive. I shall now bare my soul – but don’t tell anybody! I have had enough reasons of my own during my lifetime to feel very hurt by other people. During the early 1980s, I suffered emotional hurt over a period of time, which gave rise to severe clinical depression. Also, in my professional life as a solicitor, during the late 1980s and early 1990s I was deceived by (I regret to say) a fellow lawyer, and other lawyers behaved unethically and unprofessionally, all of which hurt me emotionally and professionally and cost me a small fortune. And in another episode, I lost a lot of money by following the advice of an accountant and a barrister! I had every reason to be angry and unforgiving. But I decided that, if I harboured anger against the people concerned for the rest of my days, the person who would suffer would be me. (An American author, Max Lucado, once wrote: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realising you were the prisoner.”) The people who had hurt me were not people I could avoid. They were all people whom I had known for a long time. So, here’s the trick, I decided long ago that the only thing to do was to forgive them all and carry on talking to them as if nothing had happened, to write off the experiences bad luck and something to learn from and to get on with life.

It’s a bit like this. Supposing someone hurts you, it’s as if the hurt is a stone which you have to put in an invisible ‘bag-for-life’ that you carry on your back. The more hurts you receive, the more stones go in the bag. For some people, over time, the weight of so many stones can become unbearable and sadly, for a few, the burden of the bag-for-life may become so unbearable that they think that life is no longer worth living.

Hopefully, by spring next year, we will be back to normal services in church. Those of you who normally attend our Good Friday service will know that for some years we have had a point in the service where we invite people to go up to the Cross temporarily erected in the chancel and to take a prayer with them, represented by a pebble, and leave it at the Cross. May I suggest that, if you have ever suffered a hurt that you have found hard to forgive, then next Good Friday take two pebbles up to the Cross, one representing your prayer, and the other representing forgiveness for someone who has hurt you, and leave them both at the foot of the Cross. There will then be one less pebble in your bag-for-life. In fact, you don’t have to wait until Good Friday next year. Once we are allowed to unlock the church, you could sneak in with a pebble at any time and leave it at the Cross behind the altar. If, when I next go into the church I find a pile of pebbles at the Cross, I will know that a number of people are feeling better for having unburdened themselves!

And finally, if I you disagree with or are offended by anything I have said – please forgive me!

The Peace of the Lord be with you all.

Fr. Ray