Remission

What comes to mind when you hear “remission”? Most of us probably think of cancer. When cancer is in “remission,” it isn’t active, but we don’t know, it might still be there. If someone is “in remission,” as we say, for a number of years, then we don’t expect the cancer to come back. So we think of “remission” as something in the background, perhaps temporarily defeated, perhaps more than temporarily—but there, probably, as an ongoing threat.
 If, however, you are a Rite One person, you might think, instead of cancer, of “one baptism” which, according to the Nicene Creed in the traditional language, is “for the remission of sins.” Here the word “remission” must mean something quite different from the way we use the word with cancer.
 Its root is mittere, the Latin word meaning “to send, to cause to go.” The prefix “re-” means “again” or “back.” The Creed’s assertion is about the “sending back” of sins, the “causing to go away” of sins. When sins are remitted they aren’t around any more. They’re not like cancer, which might still be there; nor is a sinner “in remission,” in some sort of in-between, maybe-okay state. The sins have been turned around and discharged: they ain’t here.
 It’s a bit old-fashioned, but we do sometimes speak of money that is sent to pay a bill as a “remittance.” When the remittance is sent, the debt no longer exists. Indeed, there is biblical warrant for speaking of sins as “debts,” and some versions of the Lord’s prayer have it so: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” May it please God to remit all our sins!
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 May I be playful for a bit? When we see the word “remission,” there’s “mission” in it. And there’s “mission” in God’s own being. The Father sends the Son into the world with his mission: in order that the world might be saved. And the sacrifice being accomplished, the Father through the Son sends the Spirit whose mission is to speak of what the Son has done.
 God’s mission is what we can participate in: and we may do so when we plant churches, instruct believers, build communities of forgiveness and truth, seek the healing of the world. In these ways we join in the divine mission to overcome sin, to remit it, to banish it, to send it away.
 We thereby partake of the “re-missioning” of the world: to turn the world from its false mission (the advancement of sin) to its true one.
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 Out & About. I will be preaching at Incarnation in Dallas on December 2. The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will not meet in December; on January 13 (Sunday, 6 p.m.) I will lead a discussion of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. This also is at Incarnation and anyone who reads the book is welcome.
 Looking further ahead: the spring theology lecture by yours truly will be on the theology of suffering. We pray it will not be a painful experience! Sunday, March 24, at Incarnation at 6 p.m.

 

Hickory Lane

Runners have it easy when they visit another city. The only special equipment they have to pack is their shoes. Then in the morning before the day begins, they head out to see the place they’re visiting.

Nowadays, they can carry a palm-sized computer that communicates with satellites and, with it, track their path and progress. But they also can go without (as in the ancient days of, say, the year 2000) and trust their own wits to find their way back home.
 One priest, staying at the old College of Preachers in Our Nation’s Capital, went out for a run and got lost. The streets were winding and hilly, the sun had not yet risen, and he just had to keep going. He returned after an hour an a half—the sun was up and he was wiped out by this, for him, really long run. I think it was a sighting of the National Cathedral that brought him back. He had a sense of having being caught without alternatives; not unsafe, but without cash or ID, just a key (or maybe it was just the mental knowledge of the entrance code). All he could do was keep running, think, hope, and pray.
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 Running as a visitor recently, I noticed that the residential street I had come upon was called Hickory Lane. Lots of streets in that part of the world are named for trees and are almost never called “streets.” Then a tune came into my mind.
 I was back in grade school, in a world that really was a long time ago. We’re in the auditorium where we had music class a couple of days a week, and we’re singing a song that, even then, was old fashioned. “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days: Reading and writing and arithmetic; Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”
 I’m on Hickory Lane and my mind dredges up something half a century ago about hickory sticks. Corporal punishment was just an accepted thing then, but to speak of a spanking with the stick as a “tune” was even then a poetic transformation. The good and the bad are alike transformed and remembered with an equal gaze. Education, discipline, and love come together.
 The song, of course, goes on with words we boys squirmed to sing: “You were my queen in calico, I was your bashful, barefoot beau As you wrote on my slate, ‘I love you, Joe,’ When we were a couple of kids.”
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 We’re all runners, of course. We’re all visitors, wherever we are. We carry memories that are themselves memories that bathe all they consider with love. And although we can get ourselves lost, that cathedral spire is there and might indicate the way home.
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 Out & About. This Sunday, November 11, I’ll lead a seminar discussion on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. I hope you read the book and, if you can, join us at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in room 205 of the education building.

 

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."