This Sunday has a few names in our tradition. Our Sunday Lectionary calls it the Second Sunday of Easter. That’s because last Sunday was technically the First Sunday of Easter, or Eastertide, meaning the time or season of Easter. But that has been only since 1970. Before that it was called the First Sunday after Easter.
Some people call this Low Sunday, because the attendance is typically lower than last Sunday. We might even call it St. Doubting Thomas Sunday.This reading from the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 20, beginning with verse 19, has been read on this Sunday forever, as far as I can tell. I have a copy of the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer, and it’s in there, as well as the 1892 and 1928 American prayer books.
The scene of the Gospel today is the second time someone has seen Jesus after his resurrection. Last week we heard from the first part of this chapter where Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb to tend to Jesus, only to find him outside, and she thought he was the gardener.
Later on that evening, the disciples were in a room with the doors locked. They were cowering in fear of the Jews, according to John, but of course he meant the leadership of the Sanhedrin who orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus suddenly appears in the room, which probably scared them half to death! I know I would have been. Jesus speaks some calming words to them, to settle them down.
Then as a way to prove to them it was he, he showed them his hands and his side. Can you imagine what that looked like? The wounds of Jesus were still there, the flesh torn from the nails and the spear. Pretty gross, right?
It’s important to note that those wounds never healed over. Those wounds were the proof that this was the same Jesus who was crucified, and not some imposter. That was just one of the crazy theories that arose after the resurrection to try to debunk it.
Then Jesus said some pretty important things to the disciples. First he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
It was this point that the disciples became Apostles. This come of the Greek word that means, “Sent.” They are no longer simply students, or followers, of Jesus. They have now been sent out into the world with a mission. Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world because of his great love, so Jesus sends out Apostles to spread the Good News of salvation by his blood.
The next thing he says gives the Apostles a huge amount of responsibility.
“Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is their ordination to the priesthood of the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit provides that inspiration for this work. In fact, it could not be done without him. This is only the second time that God breathed on man, the first being in Genesis 2:7 when he gave life to Adam.
This time God gives the Apostles the Life-giving Holy Spirit for their most important task; to forgive sins in the Name of Jesus. He had forgiven sins many times during his ministry, and each time it affected not only the one who was forgiven, but all of those around as well. Since Jesus was going to ascend to the Father, he needed to pass on that ministry so it could be continued for all time.
The Apostles passed that ministry to the first Bishops, who passed it on to the Elders, which we call priests. The Bishop uses these words in the ordination of a priest: You are “to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners.” (paraphrased)
This power comes from the Father: St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Indeed, confirms St. Paul, “So we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).
The ministry of reconciliation is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, it’s a vehicle of God’s grace for you.
I get to practice this every Sunday in what we call the Confession and Absolution. To absolve sins means to wash them away like a stain in the wash. Any sins or wrong doings can be confessed, and if you have true repentance, and wish to change, they can be forgiven.
I have heard many times from people who say they can confess directly to God, and he can forgive them, but does he? How can you know if you don’t hear anything? And why do they still feel guilty? Some people never really understand the true power of forgiveness.
When you have experienced it, it’s like nothing else. It’s the greatest feeling of relief one can have. Just imagine how the woman felt, when Jesus saved her from the stoning, and told her to go and sin no more?
Jesus came to this earth to save sinners. He called us to continue his mission while we are on this earth, so that he could ascend to the Father. Now, as his ambassadors, we are on the same mission.
How can we show our gratitude for what he has done? Continue his ministry until he comes again. We are to proclaim the good news of salvation by the forgiveness of sins by the blood of the Lamb.
You and I are partners in this mission, and together we can continue to build the body of Christ, the church, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.