Connecting the Holy Spirit to the ministerial forgiveness of sins: it’s this weekend’s Gospel reading. The first five verses also appear in the Reconciliation Lectionary (RP 201):
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
I simply love this passage. As with many key chapters in John’s Gospel, it is deep and rich and invites careful scrutiny and prayer. To me, all of John 20 unfolds like a drama, very much like chapters 4, 9, and 11.
Note that all the disciples begin this section of John 20 in fear. They encounter the risen Lord. Jesus offers them peace. Fear has turned to joy. Jesus reaffirms his gift of peace, and extends this formal greeting to a reminder of their connections to the Father as well as the mission on which he sends them.
What lesson for us, for the penitents? Certainly that Christ offers us the way to surpass or conquer our fears. Jesus stood among the disciples. For our individual experience of God’s mercy, Christ stands within the inmost recesses of our being. It is not merely a child’s piety that acclaims, “Jesus lives in me!” It is an act of faith.
That faith directs us outward, out from the inner turmoil, fears, and self-centeredness that even a sincere penitent can find herself or himself caught up with. I believe the Lord is calling us all–not just the disciples of the upper room, and not just the clergy–to spread the presence of Christ and his willingness to reconcile to all people.
Others struggle with fear and doubt. Our confidence communicates much to the doubtful. Our orientation to seek Christ’s peace and to bring our sins before the Lord also is noticeable. We can and should speak of the reasons for our fear-turned-joy. And lead others to Christ. This is an evangelical forgiveness: opening other human beings to the presence of God that always beckons, always forgives, and always urges us onward in the pilgrimage of service and ministry.