In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
What were the disciples thinking on Easter night? The Teacher had been slaughtered on Friday. He had said strange things about suffering, dying, and rising before it all went down. But no one does that. Though He had done it to others on at least three occasions (Mark 5:35-43; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-45). We know they were afraid. The doors were locked.
Yet in their midst Jesus appears. He shows His hands and feet and says, “Peace be with you.” He proves He is alive. Then He gives them what the resurrection is about: peace with God. In other words, He absolves their sins. He removes them. Removing the cause of their fear. Thus giving them peace with God.
Thus Jesus appears. He proves He is physically alive. Then He gives them the fruit of His resurrection: peace.
He who was sent by the Father, with all authority in heaven and earth given to Him (Matthew 28:18) sends them with the same authority He has from the Father (John 20:21). Authority to destroy, remit, forgive sin. Thus, His Twelve become the first holders of His office of ministry, the Ministry of forgiveness (John 20:23), of reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), peace to you from Jesus.
His resurrection happened. It means something. It means that mankind’s sin is forgiven. It means that fear is gone in this absolution. We don’t believe that primarily because we practice a shoddy absolution. A half measures absolution. We don’t seek out, get, or even know to look for the full power of absolution. For we don’t actually speak our sins out loud. We don’t name them. Sure we hear our forgiveness out loud in the corporate absolution which is all most of us get these days. But it is a corporate absolution for everybody, there are too many people present. Which means that there is too much place to hide. There is too much wiggle room. It is easy to hear, “In the stead and by the command of Christ I forgive YOU your sins,” and think, “Surely he doesn’t mean me! He can’t know what I’ve done, and done, and done again, and if he did, he wouldn’t be able to forgive it. If he knew how shallow my repentance is, how weak my will, how I can’t bend my will to do what I want he wouldn’t forgive me THIS time. How can I come AGAIN asking forgiveness for the same thing again. Do I really mean it? Am I really even a Christian? O, wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24-25) Jesus has. Those sins are gone. Forgiven.
But your sins still hamper, plague, and tempt you. Not because you don’t believe enough, which you don’t and never can by your own reason and strength (Luther’s Small Catechism: Creed: Explanation to the Third Article), but because you haven’t been absolved enough. A strong, faithful Christian is not one who does not sin and therefore needs no absolution, for all sin (Romans 3:23-24) and to deny it is to lie (1 John 1:8-9). A strong, faithful Christian is one who runs to absolution. Craves it. Doesn’t let guilt and shame keep him from it. Doesn’t say, “But what will the pastor think of me if I come confessing that AGAIN?” This is how Satan skewers you, how he roasts you alive on a spit of shame and despair. “My sins are too great, too oft repeated, to come again to the pastor with them. They are too shameful to admit again.” Repent.
Oh you’ve been absolved in the corporate absolution so common in recent centuries. But how many of you have ever sought out, received, or even known that there is an individualized absolution just for you? Maybe you didn’t even know that outside of the sermon (where your forgiveness is declared every Sunday) the Christian Church knew no corporate absolution throughout these last 2000 years until very recently (the last few hundred years). What you receive in corporate absolution is real. It is valid. But it is not what the Church in her wisdom, following the example and teaching of her Lord, did. It is not what our Catechism teaches in the Confession section of its six chief parts of Christian doctrine. For absolution was not meant to be corporate, but specific, individual. For you. Christ for you. Corporate absolution as the only form of absolution you ever receive can weaken your faith in Christ’s forgiveness of you.
That’s what so beautiful about private absolution for you. It is private. It is individual. You name your sins. They are crucified. Absolved. Remitted. Removed. No wiggle room. It is you and you alone Jesus is talking to His pastor lays his hand on your head and says: I, by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace. You are free.
Satan is cast out. Jesus has breathed on you. He who breathed the breath of life into Adam’s lifeless clay (Genesis 2:7) breathes new life into your dead-in-sin flesh. Absolution for those sins that really plague you is powerful. It is resurrection unto eternal life every time it happens. It strengthens you to life everlasting. It strengthens you so much that you may even find new ability to live as you know you should, where you never had it before. Your sinful nature will, of course, re-awaken again. If you don`t believe that just pinch yourself and see that you are not yet free of your sinful flesh (Question 20: Christian Questions with their Answers). You are not in your imperishable, raised body yet. So you need to come get this again and again. Don’t flee from Christ`s Absolution. Flee to it. It is your refuge. It casts out fear, and doubt, and strengthens the new man in you.
But the next Sunday by the power of the Holy Spirit he is there. Jesus appears, zones in on Thomas and says, “Peace to you, Thomas. See My hands and My side. Come on man, here’s My hand, put that finger in it. Look at my side. Thrust that hand in here, you big stupid oaf.” And if this were a modern movie at that point Jesus would have grabbed him and held him tight. Sins forgiven. Relationship restored.
You see the resurrection happened. Its purpose and meaning is to make you not unbelieving but believing (John 20:27), giving you absolution peace.
But blessed are those who have not seen and believed! (John 20:29) That’s you and me. We weren’t there. We’ve only heard—not just the news, but His absolution. Not through the Twelve apostles but through other holders of that office of ministry. That’s why you have faith. That’s how your faith gets strengthened. Jesus’ forgiveness breathes Jesus’ breath of life into you as His sent ones preach it to you, both publically and privately. And you’ve seen and touched His risen body with your lips in His own Supper given by his officers.
That’s why John wrote his Gospel, so that you might hear this and not doubt but believe you are forgiven; and by believing have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
You are forgiven. Peace be to you.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON