The death of Antonin Scalia last Saturday almost immediately spawned a political argument about his replacement. The clichéd phrase of his not being cold before the vultures arrived is, like many clichés, exactly apt. During their debate the Republican candidates universally agreed that President Obama ought to forego putting a name before ‘their’ Senate for consideration, that doing so would mean a long delay until after the November election at least.
But Scalia’s death also instigated debates between the views that he was after all a human being, worthy of respect and dignity, the “Love your enemy” faction, against the “By their fruits, you shall know them” group who outlined Scalia’s rather nasty history of arguing against civil rights for gay people. Facebook filled with opinions on Scalia’s legacy, and whichever side you join, his life and death present something of a dilemma for Christians entering the season of Lent.
Every service from Ash Wednesday forward points us toward introspection, self-evaluation, repentance for what we have done and left undone, and a determination to lead a more godly life. Left in the spiritual realm and the sacred spaces of church, all of those activities move relatively smoothly, leaving us with an air of sanctity, of having communed not only with our own souls, but with God whose direction we prayed for all the while.
It’s outside the church walls that things sometimes unravel, and we’ve been through this before with bishops (not the current one) of this diocese whose legacy, like Scalia’s, is apt to lead us toward a deep-seated hatred for all they did to us or failed to do for us. Such feelings move us away from what’s called a Holy Lent, identified by the search for righteousness and forgiveness. Those emotions bring up the question of how much we are to forgive (Jesus had a lot to say about this amount), and how much we can forget about the hurtful slings and deadly arrows aimed at us.
No, we cannot ever forget. Doing so ushers in the possibility of the return of those days of repression and marginalization. To not remember past abuse is to allow its repetition. Forgetting breeds complacency and the smug notion that nothing like the past could ever happen again. “Tis a bright day that brings forth the adder, and that craves wary walking,” Shakespeare tells us. Vigilance depends on memory, of a vivid recollection of the past and a resolve never to let bigotry rise to destroy the rights we have wrested from the benighted beliefs held by the likes of Antonin Scalia.
Forgiveness is nevertheless more than possible; it’s required. In the quid pro quo of asking and receiving forgiveness, we have no choice if we profess to be Christians. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, forgiving people like Scalia who could have championed gay rights in his long career. But doing so makes us emerge much stronger in faith from the refiner’s fire, better tempered like fine steel for the next time we must forgive until forgiveness becomes automatic, and doesn’t require us to decide whether the other person is worthy of our forgiveness. Forgiving humbles us and ennobles us at the same time. It is the essence of love that endures all things and forgives all things.
So we may send Justice Scalia to God with our forgiveness with the sure and certain knowledge of God’s mercy. For us to do less within the covenant of our baptism would be a betrayal and most certainly would interfere with our symbolic journey toward Jerusalem this Lenten season.
February 15, 2016