In the 1980s, I taught a course called “A Lutheran Understanding of Holy Communion—or, It’s not just for forgiveness anymore!” It was a takeoff on an ad campaign for orange juice that included the memorable line, “It’s not just for breakfast anymore!” My thesis was that just as orange juice drinkers were discovering their favorite beverage wasn’t only a morning drink, so Lutherans were discovering that the Lord’s Supper has a wider significance than forgiveness of sins.
I recalled that course while pondering the words in Mark’s gospel that John the Baptist was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” I thought I would write today about how these words introduce the theme of forgiveness to the gospel. But when I read through the Gospel, I was surprised to see how little Mark says about forgiveness. There’s a story of Jesus forgiving the paralytic in chapter 2; a saying about forgiveness and the Holy Spirit in chapter 3; a quote from Isaiah in chapter 4; and a saying about prayer and forgiveness in chapter 11. That’s it. Mark doesn’t ignore forgiveness, but neither does he make it a major emphasis. This is a healthy reminder to avoid summing up faith in a few stock phrases. Our God is too vast to be reduced to bumper sticker theology.
In that course on Holy Communion, I taught that while the Sacrament is indeed about forgiveness, it is also about remembering the past acts of God, anticipating what God is yet to do, celebrating the presence of Christ in our midst, being together with other believers, giving thanks, and a whole lot more.
Awesome God, you are greater than we can imagine. Forgive us our sin of trying to box you in with a few words. Grace us with your Spirit, that we might see the fullness of the gifts you have bestowed upon us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.