Happy Easter! I hope you had a great time gathering with friends and family to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!Our lectionary reading tells the story of what happened Easter evening. The disciples have heard the news from the women at the tomb about how they saw angels and the risen Lord, but the disciples are still nervous. Jesus was crucified just days ago, so they are carefully locking the doors for their own protection. Then, in the midst of their fearful, confused gathering, Jesus shows up. He speaks words of peace as a greeting, calming the disciples who must have been shocked to see him,
in their locked room among them, after his gruesome death. Then he shows them the marks of the crucifixion assuring them that it really is him. John tells us they rejoiced. That’s probably putting it mildly. But then something interesting happens, Jesus commissions them to go forth. This is not all that curious, Jesus is always sending people on their way to live and be different. The interesting part is what he tells them to do. Forgive sins, and retain sins.We’re pretty comfortable with the first part of the commission. Christians are supposed to be people of forgiveness, even if we don’t always get it right. We are working, by God’s grace, to become more forgiving people. But the second part of Jesus’ charge gives us pause. Partially because our culture has bombarded us with negative images of Christians who are down-right hateful, and partly because we believe God is the only rightful judge of humanity. The whole spec in your eye, log in my eye, problem comes to mind. Throwing the first stone, comes to mind. The list could go on. So, what is Jesus commanding the disciples to do?
We would do well to recall that the first part of this commission would have been just as shocking to the disciples. Jesus got into trouble with the religious leaders when forgiving sins; they said only God could do that (not recognizing Jesus’ nature). Sometimes we treat forgiveness too lightly, but serious forgiveness is not an easy thing. This forgiveness responsibility carries enormous weight. But we fail to live up to the entirety of Jesus’ commission if we focus solely there. Instead, keeping in mind all of the prohibitions against unhealthily judgmental attitudes, we must also recall our heavy responsibility to distinguish right from wrong. The Gospel calls us to be Easter people, to be transformed, and to share that widely. This includes naming the power of sin for what it is, death. Without this, the message of Easter is incomplete and ineffectual. With this acknowledgement, the message of Easter becomes life giving, the very breath of God that enlivens us (verse 22).