Our Gospel reading this morning chronicles the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples since he was raised from the dead. You will recall that last Sunday we heard about the first two appearances. Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
What did Jesus mean by this? First, we can say that we are a sacramental church. What then is a sacrament? “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. God gives us the sign as a means whereby we receive that grace, and as a tangible assurance that we do in fact receive it.” (1662 Catechism)
This statement is from our recently completed Anglican Catechism: “There are two sacraments that are generally necessary for our salvation: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or Holy Eucharist.”
We say that Jesus gave us these sacraments in the Gospels. It could be said, too, that Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He forgave sins of many of those he encountered. And notice, he rarely heard about the particular sins of any person. You might say, he already knew them, because he is God after all. But which of those who received forgiveness actually confessed their sins?
The book, The Teaching of the Apostles, or what we call the Didache, has this to say: “On the evening of the first Easter Jesus gave his apostles the authority to forgive or retain sins in his name (John 20:20-23). This does not refer to the general body of believers as some claim.”
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus said: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” The passage in John 20 refers to the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession as we once called it.”
St. Augustine elaborated on this point, when he wrote: “But what was impossible was made possible by God, who gave us so great a grace. It seemed likewise impossible for sins to be forgiven through penance; yet Christ granted even this to His Apostles, and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest” (On Penance 2:2:12 [inter 384-394]).
There is a particular verse in today’s reading that I find to be much more popular than talking about confession. Simon Peter said those words, ofter repeated by men down through the centuries, “I am going fishing.”
Simon Peter knew that he had to go on making a living. He had seen Jesus after the resurrection, and believed him to be the Messiah, but he was practical. He needed to eat, but you have to love what he does when realizes that the Lord is standing on the beach.
He is so impetuous in his devotion. The rest of the disciples decided to bring the boat in with them. And Jesus has a fire ready to cook fish. He knows they need to eat, and he is ready for them.
Notice, too, that he gave them bread and fish to eat. Jesus took this opportunity to provide a meal for his disciples. Earlier in the Gospel, John wrote that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is reinforcing this teaching that he provides what they need, when they need it.
It is important to understand that Jesus was a human being, as well as the Divine Son of God. As you may have heard in Sunday School, a presbyter named Arius who lived in the fourth century began to teach that Jesus was a created being, while also being divine.
This was deemed a heresy by the Counsel that met in Nicea in 325, which affirmed the standard teaching that Jesus was not created at his birth in Bethlehem, but existed with the Father and the Spirit before creation.
At his birth, he was incarnated, that is, he received his flesh from the Virgin Mary his mother. As such, he lived, breathed, ate, all of it, just like us. He suffered like we suffer, too. The Incarnation is crucial to our understanding of Jesus, and to honor it, we should genuflect at the words from the Nicene Creed, “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” We are not bowing to Mary as some may think. And because of his incarnation, Jesus offered us his body and blood shed for us in the Holy Communion. This was no ghost, or spirit body, but a physical body.
St. Ignatius wrote in his Epistle to Smyrnaeans ch. 3, “Jesus had a real physical body after the resurrection.” and in ch. 5, “Only unbelievers say he did not have a real body.”
Tertullian wrote in his letter to Maricon ch. 4, “Jesus resurrected in a physical body.” This teaching has apostolic authority, as these church fathers knew. We, too, can have assurance in his physical resurrection.
St. Paul wrote the Romans, ch. 6, vs 5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” It sounds wonderful to me that in the resurrection, I will be able to hug my father again. I will get to meet his father, and get to hug him. I will meet all of my ancestors, too. But the greatest thing I hope for is to hug Jesus, my Lord and Savior.
We have a foretaste of that heavenly banquet, when we get to hold the body of Christ in our hands, and eat his flesh, and drink his blood. He is present among us at the Eucharist. I hope you realize that. Look at the bread and the cup and see Jesus. Upon our resurrection we will see him face to face
St. Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
To know and be known by Jesus, that is what we long for, and that is what we will receive when we look at Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.