Easter II, Year B
We live in the glorious resurrection of our Lord. Our blessed church, the whole church, often lives as if we hope for the resurrection of our Lord.
We are made in the cross the children of God. At the resurrection in John's gospel, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, go tell my brothers that I will meet them in Galilee, just as I promised. Go to my brothers and witness to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
When Jesus appears to the apostles in that upper room where the doors are locked, he breathes on them [John's Pentecost], says 'Receive the Holy Spirit; if you untie the sins of any, they are untied. If you hold onto the sins of any, they are held onto." Now this is my own translation from the Greek. I suspected this meaning based on the translation I have, but I wanted to verify it, so I did the word study bit, and I have to tell you it is stronger than I thought.
We are called by Christ, as he was by our Father, to set people free from their sins. To untie them. And if we do not, we hold onto those sins.
Hurts a little doesn't it? I like the first part. It feels noble to take on the task of forgiving and pronouncing forgiveness.
Several people came to me when I was first in Phoenix to do their fourth and fifth steps in the Twelve Steps of AA or one of the derivatives. And what joy, brutal joy, there was to sit and wait out whole notebooks of sins to say, 'You are forgiven, in the name of Christ.' One big guy had more tattoos than me and far more muscle just sat and wept, couldn't open his eyes he said for fear that I wouldn't be there at the end. And that job, don't tell the hierarchy this, but that job is not reserved for the priest. You, O people of God, are to be the harbingers of forgiveness, the buoys of God's great grace, the mile markers of how far to go to chase down and set free the lost and the bound.
That is the first part, but the second is terrible. This may ruin your whole Sunday if you get it. If you don't untie them, you keep them, and your own besides. There are many texts that echo this sentiment, including the Lord's Prayer's horrible "as." Our commission in Christ is not to be judge but liberator. If we play judge, we pay the full penalty.
That hurts because, if you are like me, there are sins I don't want to forgive. Another man came to me with notebooks of sins, and there was one I couldn't let go of. There were really several, but one that is direct and simple to talk about. He robbed an elderly lady of something along the lines of 20 dollars while she slept. And I couldn't forgive that. He had done far worse things, but I have a grandmother, now passed, whom I felt guilty for not seeing. And it took a close friend who has a psych degree to say, you are carrying this around because of your own guilt. I had to forgive us both.
Now, where in the world do we get the gumption to broker God's forgiveness the way Jesus did in his day. That is a divine prerogative that is set aside for the temple and the priest. We get it at the cross and the empty tomb. In Christ's life, death and resurrection, we are given the command and call to continue Christ's work in the world. Our sins are forgiven. So we may go out and proclaim forgiveness.
It is bold work. And sometimes it is horrible work that requires great discipline and soul-searching depth. But it is glorious work indeed. Happy Easter.