the penultimate WORD
Canon Jim Irvine




Series 1999 - Proper 14
Sweet forgiveness


 Jesus said, "I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11: 29

I didn't like carrots as a youth.

And spinach was definitely out.

I am constantly surprised how my tastes have changed over the years, and how they continue to change! Food is such a category. And I am discovering that music is another.

A shelf of CDs reflects the change. A quick glance would reveal a diverse range. There are folk music disks, and a selection of alternative music. You would find some jazz CDs, but it's limited to a few artists. I like B.B. King, and I like John Coltrane. When I became involved in the local summer stock theatrical productions, I added some soundtracks. And there is a spattering of classical pieces.

But you wouldn't find any Blue Grass or Country music there.

Until this week.

The other day I was in a local record store. Thumbing through the racks of CDs, I came across a recording I was looking for. I didnít know the other cuts on the album. I wasnít familiar with any of the titles. Even the artist, Iris DeMent, was unknown to me. But, having found the song I wanted, I decided to purchase the disk and headed to the cashier.

Was I in for a surprise when I got home!

Cut number 8 on the disk, Sweet Forgiveness, ignited my imagination.

A familiar theme, forgiveness found a voice with an unforgettable Arkansas accent, giving it a note of vitality that excited me!

Sweet forgiveness, thatís what you give to me
When you hold me close and say "Thatís all over"
You donít go looking back
You donít hold the cards to stack
You mean what you say

Forgiveness is such an exceptionally rare commodity. We all yearn for it. My experience tells me that I should be timid in the search. People looking back, do remember. Cards get stacked. People donít mean what they say.

My need of forgiveness makes me vulnerable, and afraid. Itís an experience familiar to us all.

Sweet forgiveness, you help me see
Iím not near as bad as I sometimes appear to be
When you hold me close and you say
"Thatís all over, and I still love you"

Unloved, itís easy to feel diminished and unlovable. Acceptance is redemptive and enables us to accept ourselves. The simple words give strength to the weaken will: "Öand I still love you."

Thereís no way that I could make up
For those angry words I said
Sometimes it gets to hurting
And the pain goes to my head

My burden of guilt ... conscience, we call it Ö weighs heavily and I feel so insufficient, incapable of undoing the hurts I have inflicted. Better, we think, to carry on, and rely on our bravado. I am alright, I say. Things are okay. And, having deceived others, I begin to deceive myself. It's all too familiar.

Sweet forgiveness, Dear God above,
I say we all deserve
A taste of this kind of love
Someone whoíll hold our hand
Whisper I understand and I still love you.

A person who has suffered the pain, and who knows their need of absolution, can express the wonderful conviction that "we all deserve a taste of this kind of love." A person who bears the scars of living and values the closeness demanded by a whispering voice can hope to hear that "I understand and I still love you." Such a person recognizes redemption. Iris DeMent witnesses to the pain and to the forgiveness. And her witness helps us to integrate basic needs and realities in light of faith, hope and conviction.

That is good news!

And that Jesus said it first, and that we hear it in todayís Gospel only serves to give us hope.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Iris DeMent Infamous Angel 
Copyright © Warner Bros. Records Inc. 
Copyright © 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

Sweet Forgiveness Lyrics

Sweet Forgiveness  by Iris DeMent from her CD, "Infamous Angel"

Series 1999