Friday, 1 April 2011

Perfect Remission

My spontaneous gambol through the Collect for Lent has taken me to the following places:

As ever, I commend the Collect for Lent as a wonderfully reflective tool because it attends to many aspects of our spiritual journey. You will also note that, at the time that I write this, I have the Collect in full to the right of this box [If you are reading this in the future, you can find the Collect here]. 

'Remission' is a word that Christians use often, and mostly without any thought. We pray for the 'remission of our sins', and rightly so - but do we really know we mean? For those of you about to bounce around in your swivelling computer-desk chairs yelling "yes, Farv, of course I do", then I congratulate you, for I thought I knew too, but didn't really in truth. 

Like I did in the last post, I pondered the meaning of that word 'remission'. Like so many things, it is bound up in context. For example, speak of 'remission' to a person winning a fight with cancer and we have a taste of the word at its most powerfully wonderful. 'Remission' can also refer to the making of a payment - and here we have a very clear indicator of the payment of the Cross. 'Remission' can also refer to surrender and for me, at least, directs my thoughts to the Garden of Gethsemane. Again, 'remission' tells us of being discharged from debt, and here we wander into the territory of redemption which owes its meaning to related ideas. 

So, we have a number of very broad labels to work with here. And there was us thinking we knew what 'remission' was when applied to our sins. We have cure, payment, discharge, abatement, surrender - such a loaded and potent word that easily falls from our tongues in prayer. What is also easy to miss is that we ask God to grant this to us - that it demands no action from us (though we are, of course, called to penitent earlier in the Collect). I wonder how many people, when labouring under the terrible shadow of a cancer, have prayed earnestly to be in a state of remission. Whilst I have only had the merest scare in that regard, even then I got a flavour of the depth and anguish in that cry. To be granted remission in that case is nothing less that been granted a new life in its entirety. So it is with our cry from remission of sin. It is no less a life or death pleading. 

As I searched the Interweb for a pretty picture for this post, I found the one that now adorns it. Its graphical representation has caused me almost to think more about the word 'remission' than the Collect did. 'Mission Remission' was a campaign to raise support for cancer sufferers in remission, but the way that the word is configured in the image has touch a little nerve in me.

'Remission', in all the definitions that I have seen and read talk about a one-direction process. Something was there and then it was either in retreat or it wasn't there at all. Re-mission says more to me than that. It talks about our duty, as Christians, not just to receive 'perfect remission', but to take that out to the world. Or another way, when we receive perfect remission from God, we receive a new opportunity to re-mission in the world in which we live. In the word, there is a mandate, an opportunity to engage with 'mitto' [Gk] - to be sent out. When we pray for 'perfect remission' of our sins, we pray to receive something. What is clear to me is the implicit call then to share that with the world that may not know about this perfect gift of grace.


  1. I think you have given me a new handle on the word. Thank you. Something to really work with in the future.

  2. Good stuff as always Father.

  3. Thank you both. One more of these to write and that is the Collect bashed enough for one Lent!



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