Absolve Yourself!

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Jesus does not put us on trial and make us pay for our own sin, but he, himself, is put on trial in our place.

He traverses the universe at his leisure with the snap of his finger. Fear has no leverage on him. Time has no dominion over him. His presence is immersed in the theater of trial in which he is both judge and jury. As one who is omnipotent and immortal, he declares himself arbiter over all. Welcome to the life of a self-proclaimed god in the Sci-Fi tv series, Star Trek: Picard. Welcome to Q.

This character is not new to the Star Trek franchise. For over thirty years the immortal, omnipotent, god-like being known as Q has forged his way through many Star Trek series. As a god-like being, he temporarily puts on human flesh that he may engage in their likeness. However, he engages not as peer or counterpart, but as teacher, judge, and confessor. The lives of humans are a game to him and he frequently takes amusement in their weakness. Whenever Q emerges, chaos is sure to ensue.

The court of Q perpetually tries and condemns humanity. The trademarks to his tribunal include second chances, choosing the road not taken, and revisiting the past. And in the recent, Star Trek: Picard, Q returns with signature provocations.

Jean-Luc Picard, the man Q refers to affectionately as mon capitaine, is a Frenchman, the former captain of a starship, and now a commanding admiral. He’s a leader and a man imprisoned by fear and guilt. Over the years, Q has acted as confessor and counselor to Jean Luc even as the captain remains shackled by the guilt of his past. At the end of the series, Q emerges one final time to deliver a parting gift for his mortal friend: he shows up so that Picard may be absolved.

As his confessor, Q requires a penance. Jean-Luc is told that he must absolve himself. He must, as Q states, “know thyself.” Atonement and forgiveness must come from within. His guilt must be washed clean by another. Picard is left with an ultimatum, “Absolve yourself, or the only life left unsaved will be your own.”

Once Picard completes such a penance, we watch as Q, dressed in priestly garments dark as the night sky, looks into the eyes of his penitent. But in contrast to how this great high priest of the universe has defined atonement as something inward, we see his actions designate it as something else: “You are now unshackled from the past. As I leave, I leave you free.” In other words, I absolve you.

It wasn’t enough for Picard to undertake self-absolution. He needed atonement from outside of himself. He needed to hear the words of absolution from his confessor, Q. He needed assurance of forgiveness from another to comfort his troubled conscience.

Our Lord does not snap his fingers to flex his cosmic abilities and put on our human flesh just for show.

Likewise, our absolution must come from outside of ourselves. We cannot wash away our own iniquities. If we set out to truly “know thyself” as Q suggests, we can only go as far as to confess with the apostle John that, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8).” We cannot earn our forgiveness. Atonement must be made for our offenses and it must come from another.

Our God comes to us as teacher, judge, and confessor. However, our Lord does not snap his fingers to flex his cosmic abilities and put on our human flesh just for show. In his incarnation, Christ comes to us to dwell with us. He comes to sympathize with us in our weakness. He comes as the incarnate Son of God not to condemn, but to save.

Jesus does not put us on trial and make us pay for our own sin, but he, himself, is put on trial in our place. He is judged guilty for our sin and we are judged righteous on account of the work of Christ for us; the all-powerful God dies in our place, he atones for our sins.

The stain of sin is washed away, not by your own doing, but by the Lord’s doing in the waters of your Holy Baptism. In the words of absolution given to you from your pastor, you hear the words of Christ, “I forgive you.” In the Lord’s Supper, you receive the true body and blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of all your sins. God comes to you with the gift of absolution only he can give. As you leave, you leave free.

In this way we can rejoice with Simeon and proclaim, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples (Luke 2:29-31).”

We are free.

We’re free to forgive our neighbor as we have been forgiven. We’re free to love and serve those around us, as we have been unshackled from the guilt of our sins. We are absolved, God sent his Son to make it so. The crucified and risen Son of God has declared us not guilty. When God forgives us, there is no need to absolve ourselves. We are fully forgiven and at peace with our Lord.

In the words of Jean-Luc Picard, “Engage!”