Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti

For those who desired to be in church yesterday, but were prevented, here is yesterday’s sermon:

He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed) Alleluia!

Like Thomas, we heard of the resurrection last Sunday, but we must wait a week to see Jesus in the Gospel reading. Last week, we left with the women distraught and leaving the tomb trembling. This week we pick up that evening. We know from John’s Gospel that Peter and John went to the tomb to look, and saw the graveclothes lying folded up. But they don’t believe the promise given in the Old Testament that Jesus would rise from the dead. It isn’t until they are gathered in the upper room and Jesus appears to them, that they finally believe the truth – Jesus is alive.

Jesus first word is a word of consolation and comfort – he has not come to them to criticize them because they fled when he was arrested. He hasn’t come back to call Peter on the carpet for denying him. He has come to bring them joy – a joy without end. The joy of the resurrection. And so he starts with “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and side – it really is him. He has been raised indeed. The wounds remain, but they are not painful. The damage to his body has been healed. The wounds remain as triumphant witness of what he has endured for our salvation. Like the cursed cross that is now symbol of the resurrection and of victory over death, so his scars are now a testimony of the victory he has won over sin.

And then he breathes on them. The word for breath and for spirit is the same word. He spirited them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Just as in Genesis, God breathes into mans nostrils the breathe of life – the spirit of life – and man became a living being. Now, Jesus gives the Spirit to them. We say that the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Holy Scripture. He breathed into them the words of scripture. Jesus is giving the Spirit as gift of his resurrection. The work of the Spirit is to point us to Jesus. He breathes into us faith in the promise of salvation that Jesus won for us by his death.

Now we hear of the great gift Jesus gives by the Spirit. He gives the church the authority on earth to forgive sins. This is a strange authority. The Romans didn’t really go in too much for sin. It was similar to the world of today. Sin and forgiveness didn’t mean too much to them. Today a lot of people deny that sin even exists. But we can not deny reality. Reality eventually comes crashing in. Those who deny the Law of God end up inventing their own much more demanding law. Instead of the Ten Commandments – which can be summarized further as love God, love your neighbor as yourself – we end up with many more rules for living, or various social crusades that will save us or the planet, or whatever. The problem with these man-made moralities is that forgiveness for sinning against the spirit of the age is not available. Those who have transgressed are guilty, now and forever.

Those who mock the church because we give forgiveness are really mocking the idea of sin. They claim the church judges too harshly, but the truth is they don’t consider sin to be sin. Meanwhile, they themselves refuse to forgive things that are offenses against their own invented code. People have lost jobs, college scholarships, family, even their lives, over minor transgressions that are magnified and plastered across the internet, and there is no absolution, no forgiveness available to them. Like the priests to Judas, when he confesses to them, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” the world can only say “What is that to us. See to it yourself.” But we can not cleanse our own conscience. We can not forgive our own sin. An entire industry has grown up trying to teach people to love and forgive themselves. But without the Gospel of Jesus, the words ring hollow. The absolution of self has no meaning, there is no force behind the words, no power to forgive.

That’s why it’s so transformative, so transgressive, so strange, so foreign, and so offensive when Jesus says, “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whoever’s sins you retain they are retained.” It’s so bizarre, that even many in the church deny Jesus gave this authority. But as we heard last Sunday, we hold to the word of Jesus against all the forces of Hell, and against even the forces of our own reason. When our minds tell us that it’s crazy for some guy in front of the church to say “By the command of Jesus, I forgive you your sins…” we must remember that Jesus – freshly raised from the dead – told us to do this. “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” We would be denying our Lord’s word, denying his death and resurrection, if we denied these words of his. Our reason rejects it as nonsense, just like it rejects the resurrection. That is why we give thanks to God that he breathes his spirit into our hearts to establish a living faith, so that we would trust the word Jesus gives about our sins. They are forgiven when his servant says they are forgiven.

Not because the person who serves is so perfect. We know that all of Jesus servants are also sinners like we are. That isn’t the point. John the Baptist – way back at Jesus baptism – helps us here. John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew he was a sinner. And yet, Jesus says “This is how things are. I am without sin. But I must be counted a sinner so I can earn forgiveness of sins for all the sinners in the world.” And now, he has been crucified, gone through death been raised from the dead, and he says, “I am sending men as my messengers. Yes, they are themselves sinners. But they do not come with their own authority. They come at my command. When they forgive sins, it is as if I have said the word myself.” And we know from the Gospels that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. He heals the sick, he raises the dead, he goes into death for your forgiveness. He was raised so you would be forgiven. And now he explicitly gives this authority to forgive to His Holy Church. The word of Jesus is a precious and comforting word.

We can try to deny sin. We can say none of it matters. It is a sign of how godless our world has become that we think sin and forgiveness is some small thing – either to give it or to receive it. But our conscience catches up to us. We need to be forgiven our sins. Jesus says it is simple – repent, turn away from sin. Trust the promise that Jesus has forgiven your sins, and hear the word of Absolution from the pastor as from Christ himself. It is a comfort to us in life, and especially as we face death. That’s when Satan loves to come to us with the lie that our sins are still dragging us down to hell. That’s why we return often to hear the promise. To have our sins forgiven. It’s why Christ establishes absolution as the normal pattern of life for the Christian.

The most obvious sort of absolution – and we teach this in catechism class to the children – is when there is a sin that troubles your conscience. You can go to the pastor, confess that sin, and in Christ’s name, he will absolve you of your sin. That sin is gone. Even the pastor can never mention it again. We also have the general confession in the Divine Service, when we stop with the excuses for our conduct and say “I confess unto you all my sins and iniquities… for which I deserve your punishment.” And then the pastor speaks Christ’s word of absolution.

But there is another type of forgiveness. Luther calls it “The Christian’s Common Confession.” And he divides it into two types. The first is well known to us – it is the private plea for forgiveness like we see in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christ’s word and promise are attached to these words. Do not doubt them.

The second is the private confession between any two Christians: when you sin against someone else, and ask them to forgive you, or when a Christian neighbor sins against you and asks your forgiveness. We are all priests according to our Baptism. Not all are pastors . Pastors are designated to publicly preach and administer the sacraments on behalf of he church for the sake of good order. But all the baptized are priests. We are all given the right and duty to pray to our heavenly Father for everything of which we have need. That’s the primary task of a priest – to pray for others. All Christians are also given the authority to forgive our neighbor when he sins against us. Don’t doubt how powerful and valuable this authority is. When a spouse, parent, child, sister or brother in Christ comes to you and says, “I have sinned against you, please forgive me.” You are given the authority and duty to say “I forgive you the sin which you have sinned against me.” And in so doing, you not only forgive them, but you bring them Christ’s forgiveness as well.

Most Christians don’t even know they have this authority. And so we default to the world’s way of speaking, “I’m sorry” we say, and the response is “That’s ok.” But those words are so weak compared to the power of Jesus words which we are given.

“I have sinned against you, please forgive me.” “I forgive you the sin you have committed against me.” Those are powerful words, and they are backed by the authority of Jesus himself. But be careful. As with any powerful tool, it is a powerful tool. That may seem obvious – of course a powerful took is a powerful tool. But if you’ve ever taught someone how to use a tool of power – a gun, a saw, an iron, a stove, a car or tractor – you know how important it is that someone understands the power involved. Such tools are powerful, but that means they must be carefully used. Because they are effective, they change things. When you forgive someone who has sinned against you, they are forgiven. If you try to hold a grudge, you don’t hurt them. They have been forgiven their sin by Jesus. You damage your own soul – Jesus warns against this in Matthew 18. Your refusal to love causes you to damage your own faith. Be careful in forgiving your neighbor, if you do not really want to live in the love and forgiveness of Christ Jesus. If you want to live according to the law and according to revenge, then you will only end up harming yourself.

But if you truly desire to live in the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, if you truly desire to live forgiven and forgiving lives, then use the authority which Christ gives to every Christian – both to confess your sins to your Christian neighbor, and to forgive your neighbor for the sins he commits against you. The freedom of the Gospel – deliverance from death, release from hell, entrance into eternal salvation – this is the power contained in those words. It has the power to free from sin and from terrors of conscience. It has the power to free from anger and bitterness and to leave only the joy of Christ Jesus and his death for you.

There are a lot of courses and books today in mediation and reconciliation. Jesus gives a master class in just a few words. He says “Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven.” That’s it. They are gone. To all those who repent of their sins, the Lord Jesus offers forgiveness. That involves terrors of conscience – sorrow over the sin. But remember, Judas was more sorry than Peter. Judas was not forgiven, because he lacked faith in the promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake. So when Jesus restores Peter – which happens right after our Gospel today – Peter is well and truly restored. He grabs hold of the promise by faith. He knows it is not anything in himself that earned it, but the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And within a few weeks, he is preaching on Pentecost the wonders of Jesus death and resurrection.

This is the first half of our Gospel. The second half is Thomas – who doubted the resurrection, but who became a great proof of it. In the apostle’s day rumors and excuses were already being thrown around to try to explain away Jesus missing body. Thomas is proof that mass-delusion wasn’t possible. He won’t believe until he sees and feels the body of Jesus, and touches the wounds. So Jesus appears and shows them to Thomas. And Thomas confesses the truth – Jesus is Lord and God. He is God because He is eternally begotten of the Father. He is our Lord because he has taken us from Satan, and claimed us as his own. That was the work of Jesus death and resurrection – to redeem us from Satan, and restore us as children of His heavenly Father. He has finished that work, and we now receive the benefits of it – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

We could say much more about Thomas and his doubt and his eventual confession, but for today it is enough for us to know that his confession points us back to the word of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven.” Do not doubt, but trust the sure and certain word of Jesus. In him, your sins are forgiven. They are taken away. You are redeemed and are now a child of your heavenly Father, and Jesus is your Lord and your God by the confession of the true faith.

Grant to all of us Lord Jesus, that we may confess you rightly, and so receive the forgiveness of sins, for your sake. Amen.

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