Father Forgive

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43


Good morning. The title for this morning’s message comes from two sources. First, it comes from this morning’s gospel reading, as Jesus says: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Also, the words “Father Forgive” are inscribed upon the back wall of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, England. That is, it’s the wall behind where the altar was located. Coventry Cathedral was built between the late 1300s and early 1400s. It was one of the largest and finest medieval cathedrals in all of England. Was. Past tense.

In the early 20th century, Coventry became the center of the automotive industry in England. Engines were made there; cars were assembled there. This made Coventry a high-value target for German bombers during World War II. On the night of November 14th, 1940, Coventry was the target of a massive German bombing raid. Coventry Cathedral was hit with incendiary bombs. The wooden timbers of the roof caught fire and most of the structure burned, but the outer walls remained standing. You can still visit the ruins of Coventry Cathedral; I saw it twenty-five years ago. More on that, later.

The words “Father Forgive” were carved into the back wall of Coventry Cathedral after that raid:

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, the Rev. Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.[1]

That is truly remarkable! In the midst of the most destructive war this world has ever seen, there was a call for forgiveness! While the war was still going on! And it was a call for forgiveness for all! It didn’t say, “Father, forgive them.” It doesn’t suggest that one side was the aggressor and the other side was righteous. It simply says, “Father Forgive.” It is a tacit acknowledgement that we all need forgiveness. No one is innocent.

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday; we celebrate the Lordship of Jesus. Our gospel lesson shows us that this is no ordinary kingship. Jesus is a king who saves us from sin; he does this through a painful, humiliating death. We see this in the gospel lesson and we also see that most of the people in this story don’t understand the nature of Jesus’ kingship.

Jesus was born into a divided community. The Jews were being oppressed by the Roman Empire; they believed that God would deliver them from Roman oppression. They believed that God would fulfill the covenant by sending a great military leader, another King David, to drive the Romans out. In other words, the people believed that God would send them a king in the worldly sense, a king that would have the same sort of powers that other kings had—vast wealth and a mighty army. Jesus didn’t offer those things. He wasn’t that kind of king.

The Roman so