Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Easter is from John 20:19-31. Here John picks up the action in the evening of the day of resurrection and continues until a week later, moving us effectively to the second Sunday of Easter.
There’s a sharp contrast between the risen Jesus and his disciples, especially Thomas. Jesus, in his resurrection, has shown himself as the master over death. He also, twice, shows himself as the one who doesn’t need a key to go through a locked door. We don’t actually know how he entered the room. Calvin, always wrestling with the physical presence of Jesus, wants him to follow the physical constraints of mortality, and even suggests that he must have entered through a window. There’s no indication of that in the text either. Maybe Jesus walked through the door? Maybe through a wall? Maybe he materialized himself in the room? We really don’t know. It just says he came and stood with them. Yes, the original audience knew that this was impossible behavior. John even says in verse 30 that this was a sign so people would believe Jesus. He does impossible things.
When Jesus visits his disciples he delivers two very important things to them. He gives them a commission. They are sent by the Lord to forgive or retain sins (v. 23). He also imparts the Holy Spirit to the disciples. What’s the point of this? We don’t really see it in its fullness until Acts. However, the disciples, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, become exactly the people who will turn the world upside down by their teaching of the resurrection. They effectively spread the message of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world within just a few years.
Some people have told me they are uncomfortable with the idea, regularly expressed in Lutheran churches, of the pastor forgiving the sins of the people. Our routine response is that Jesus gave that to his disciples (not labeling them “apostles”) in John 20:23. The early Christians were of the strong opinion that this power was passed along through the laying on of hands as elders were ordained. Some will say, “I know that the Bible teaches if we confess our sins, Jesus forgives us. Why do I need you?” My answer is that we do sometimes need someone to remind us that Jesus is the one who forgives them. Whenever I hear a private confession, the absolution is in the name of Jesus. It is Jesus working forgiveness. My forgiveness is meaningless. But Jesus’ forgiveness through me as his earthly representative, sent by the Lord, is just as real as if he were to lay his hands on someone himself and speak forgiveness.
In reality, I’d worry more about the other part of verse 23. What about the retention of sins? May the Lord give us repentance so can receive forgiveness rather than having our sins bound to us as a burden we get to bear ourselves. Thanks be to God, we are given this word through John so we can believe and have life (v. 31).
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