Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23)
Easter has come and gone for the world around us. But for Christians, Easter is a season (50 days from Resurrection Sunday through Pentecost), a recurring event (Luther said “every Sunday is a little Easter”), and a way of life (we live always in the presence of the risen Christ). When the world has moved on from the holiday and all the candy from the Easter baskets has been devoured, the risen Christ is still at work in the world and in our lives.
This is an empowering thing. Jesus’ work for the church involves commissioning his followers to take the lead on continuing his work. Given the gift of the Holy Spirit (this is where it happened in John’s telling of the story), they are now empowered to go out with Jesus’ blessings just as he was sent into the world with the Father’s blessing.
This is more than a self-help lesson on forgiveness. This is a missional lesson calling for followers of Jesus to create a new kind of world. Just as Jesus has come back in peace in spite of being beaten, mocked, crucified and buried – now the disciples are to go forth as agents of that same peace. This means announcing healing in the midst of strife and division. This means forgiving people for their imperfections. This means remembering that the power to forgive belongs to God but that God has now shared it with us through the work of Jesus. This is not mere human forgiveness! This is gospel forgiveness and the charge to do God’s work and to speak on God’s behalf. Wow!
In some ways, that is overwhelming. When we are called to go forth in Christ’s name then we are representing the God who died and rose and lives in and through us.
But at the same time it is freeing. This is not about your own personal ability to forgive someone. Sometimes our own ability to forgive is pretty limited. This is about your willingness to announce the forgiveness that comes from God who is much more gracious than most of us (thank God for that!).