The Gift & Challenge of Forgiveness

So that's it, Easter Sunday has passed and the church now enters into the time of Eastertide between now and Pentecost. This year though, Easter was different for many of my friends and family though because this year Easter fell on April 16. For many, that day might not mean much but for me and other people connected to Blacksburg, Virginia it will forever be the anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, which at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. This Easter marked the 10 year anniversary. 

I was a junior in high school at the time of the shooting, my sister went to Virginia Tech, I had friends that worked there and went to school there, and if you've ever been to Blacksburg you can quickly see how much Virginia Tech is part of the lifeblood of the community. I won't go into all the details of that day because that's not what this is about but instead it's caused me to think about the response after the fact. 

If you go to Virginia Tech's campus now, on the drill field (the central location on campus) you will find a memorial for the 32 victims of the shooting, but it didn't always use to be that way. On the night after the shooting, a group of students stole 32 blocks of Hokie stone (a local limestone that is a prominent architectural feature of the campus) from a university construction site, and created a makeshift memorial that would go on to become the official memorial. Each Hokie stone marked with the name of one of the victims.

The Virginia Tech Massacre memorial in front of Burress Hall. 

The Virginia Tech Massacre memorial in front of Burress Hall. 

Two days after the temporary memorial was installed, a senior at Virginia Tech, Katelynn Johnson, installed a 33rd stone, a stone for Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman. In an interview with local news outlets Katelynn talked about how she placed the stone there because she felt compelled to forgive Cho for what he had done and despite the stone being removed several times, she would place another one. 

As you can imagine there were a lot of mixed reactions to Katelynn placing the 33rd stone for Cho. People wanted justice that they felt had been taken away from them when he took his own life. I remember being shocked at the time how quickly she responded out of a place of forgiveness. The scars of April 16 are deep for many of the people who experienced it, even to this day, and yet in the very near aftermath, she acted out of forgiveness. 

In Holy Week & Easter we see the depths of Jesus' love and forgiveness for us. Jesus dies on a cross for us, to forgive us for our sins, and that is an amazing gift that we freely receive. But we are also given the challenge to forgive others with that same sense of radical love. I admit I struggle with this, but in the aftermath of Easter I can't help but feel challenged to show others the same love that Christ showed me. 

As we continue into this season of Eastertide, may you be challenged to forgive those around you out of the same love that you have been forgiven.