Up to this point the only thing that President Obama had pardoned was turkeys. The article I read with interest on December 3 stated that the president, after nearly two years in office, had issued the first pardons of his presidency.
The president, according to Article 2 of the Constitution of the United States, retains the “ … power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States … ” The president, by mere declaration, can pardon the sins of the guilty and make them immune to punishment.
Presidential pardons are watched with great interest. What kind of people will the president pardon and what does that tell us about our president? Interestingly, the president did not know any of the people that he pardoned. While the president has received 551 pardon petitions during his presidency, only these nine have been granted.
The Associated Press article noted that presidential pardons often come at the end of the year during the holiday season. It seems like a good time to do it. The mood of the season is one of giving and forgiving. The year’s end is a time when we reflect on the past, consider what has gone wrong, and set in place plans or resolutions to change and begin afresh in the New Year. The persons who were granted pardons had mutilated coins, stolen government property, and dealt drugs. They were pardoned for reasons including their efforts at changing their lives, and demonstrating after their crimes superior citizenship. These nine persons are now freed from the verdict of the law and are cleared of all charges. How freeing!
The presidential pardon mimics the church’s gathering at the end of the year. The focus of our New Year’s Eve service is pardon. We have guilt due to our offenses against God, our neighbor, and ourselves. The service begins with Confession and Forgiveness. We begin the New Year by hearing that God’s wrath and condemnation have been set aside in His Son.
The pardon that we receive, however, is not just for some of those who make application, nor is it only for those who have shown adequate progress their lives. This pardon is for all who cling to the Lord’s mercies and desire the Lord’s forgiveness. We also gather before the throne of God to receive forgiveness not just for one offence, but for all our transgression, known and unknown, intentional and unintentional, sins of omission and commission, and those of thought, those of word, and those this year that we have done in deed. Our pardon is declared before God in heaven. It is because of Christ that we can truly ring in the New Year with joy and peace. We are free!
I won’t be with you in church because I will be on vacation. Pastor Boettcher will be conducting the service with the assistance of the Rev. John Berg of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheboygan (who will be playing the organ). Nonetheless I will be gathering with you in a different place, but before the same throne. On the same night that you gather my family and parents will be attending our home congregation in Michigan. On that night we will all hear the words that are greater than a Presidential Pardon. “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, in Jesus’ place and by His command, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
As the hymn Let Us All with Gladsome Voice (LSB #390) says,
Christ, our Lord and Savior dear,
Be Thou ever near us.
Grant us now a glad new year.
Amen, Jesus, hear us.