#FreePresents is the podcast for April 23, 2017. Jesus breathes on people and tells them they can forgive and bind. Outside of seeming a little strange on hearing it like that, there is an important message for the church. This passage deals with the quality of communities we form. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #John20 #BreathedOnThem #Breathe #Genesis2 #Ezekiel37 #Forgiveness #Sacraments #Reconciliation #Penance #CommunitiesofForgiveness #Confession #Presents
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 4/23/2017 The 2nd Sunday of Easter.
Please pause this audio and read John 20:19-31.
What is it that (at some level) we love about Christmas, Easter, our Birthday, and any kind of Anniversary? What we love is presents! We love to get them. We, also, love to give them. We love the look of surprise and satisfaction that a person gets from a gift we got them. We might be equally surprised to know that one of the two main functions of the Church and any faith community is to be the giver of the greatest gift of all.
What I am talking about today is found in this passage from the Gospel of John for this Second Sunday of Easter. The gift comes from the fact that the risen Christ comes to the apostles in the upper room and he appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.” (Tangentially, this is one passage that explains why we pass the peace or even have such a strange greeting as “peace be with you.”) He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that with this he gives them the ability to forgive or bind sins. With that, he has given them a mission.
I think it is important for us who have built buildings in the name of Jesus Christ and little social clubs in the name of Jesus Christ, to pay attention to this passage. It ought not be lost on us that after Jesus was resurrected, his disciples were hanging out in a building and talking to each other about how great their experience of Christ was. Indeed, they were afraid that anyone would call them a Christian. We do all of those things now. We hang out in buildings made for us to protect ourselves from anyone knowing we are a Christian, it seems. We don’t mean to do it, but we do.
There, in the midst of us, then, Jesus appears and he breathes on us. You know breathing has a very important role in the Scriptures. We have this passage and two others where breathing on things does something. The first and most important is in Genesis 2:7. It is when God created humanity from the dust of the earth that, “the Lord breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” When God breathed into us, he gave us life.
When Ezekiel saw the valley of the dried bones of humans he was told to call on the Spirit to put flesh on the bones. The prophet called on the Spirit and there was flesh placed on those bones. Then, in the climax, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to call on the Spirit to breate upon the bodies without life. When Ezekiel did, the Spirit gave the dead dry bones life.
So, Jesus appearing here and breathing on the community of faith is substantial. It is Jesus giving life, a renewing life to the community. That newness of life is tied to his resurrection. Newness of life, then is tied to this passage, “He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It is critically important to see all this stuff tied together.
We most frequently tie this passage to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, popularly known as “Confession.” That is important, too, because the Sacraments themselves often fall into the category of either worn out obedience with lost meaning or disregard and under use. The Sacraments are gifts, actually. The Sacraments were meant to aid humanity, not humanity to aid the Sacraments. When we look at what each one gives us, they each have a special gift.
The Eucharist gives us the ultimate intimate connection with Christ. He enters our body in the bread and cup. Baptism washes away our sins and the effects of original sin. It is the original Sacrament of reconciliation. Marriage and Holy Orders give us gifts of the Spirit to make us holier and the strength to live out the Gospel through a special commissioning. The Sacrament of Anointing gives us healing and preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sacrament of Confirmation gives us a strengthened resolve in faith to live out a life of witness to the Faith inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Today’s passage brings us to the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is the gift of the forgiveness of sins. In the form that most of the Christian world practices, that is, the confession of sins to a priest, we are given the sacred pact of confidentiality. More than just confessing our sins to one another, we are given the confidence that the person who hears what we just did cannot tell anyone. We are talking to the person who was set aside to hear our sin and give us a kind reception. There is a sacred quality to the act of confession. It is being said to the person that Jesus sent, by his breath and the laying on of hands, to give us forgiveness in persona Christi capitas, that is, in the person of Christ. Having a representative of Christ before us gives a material quality that matches the spiritual quality of Confession.
For anyone who is carrying around an adulterous affair, theft of corporate profits, hypocrisy at its height, lying, stealing, cheating, treating others unjustly, or whatever, confession to someone who can look us in the eye is a gift. To hear the words spoken by another person given the authority of the community to forgive sins can be a huge relief to someone carrying around the guilt of sin. That is a gift, my friends.
You may have noticed I said, “the authority of the community.” Indeed, I did. As we can see from this passage from the Gospel of John, forgiveness is a ministry of the Church. We can see that in the liturgical rites given for the Sacrament in the Roman Church and the Anglican Church. The Roman rite says, “through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon…”. The Anglican rite says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ,…who conferred power on his Church to forgive sins.”
I told you that there were two great functions for the Church. The first is to worship the Lord and enjoy him forever. The second is as important. It is to spread the ministry of forgiveness.
Doesn’t that surprise you? Why does it? What do you think evangelism is? Euangelion, the greek word at the root of evangelism means “Good News.” What is the ‘Good News’? It is that from God’s side, we are forgiven. In the Cross of Christ at Good Friday and through the Resurrection on Easter, Jesus comes and presents us with the forgiveness of sins. That is our mission. It is to let people know that God doesn’t hold sin against us any longer. He wants us. He wants to have us as his companion on the mission to spread His forgiveness. That is our purpose. Everything we do should drip with the mercy, the kindness, the goodness, and the lavishness of the Father in Heaven’s forgiveness.
Last Sunday, we rejoiced because we were forgiven. This week, we take the ministry of forgiveness to the world. Take a moment and let’s think of how we can accept the Lord’s forgiveness. Then, let us give this forgiveness that we cherish so much to others. How can we be communities [a community] of forgiveness? How can we be people who give the ministry of forgiveness?
Surely the one who is the bearer of the Lord’s forgiveness will be the bearer of peace. Walk with that a while. Peace be with you! Amen.
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