Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Quasi-modo Geniti (Easter 1 – April 19, 2009)
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this Sunday is the Gospel of John just read, particularly the phrases he showed them his hands and his side and again The Lord Jesus breathed on his disciples.
Last week we breathed the free air again of the resurrection of our Lord. This is the time of great joy for the Christian. Christ is risen, and death is defeated! Let us rejoice and be glad in these days of our king’s return from the dead.
But what does it mean? That’s the Lutheran question, isn’t it? What does it mean for us poor sinners, who continue to slog through life, who continue to sin and screw up and suffer and hurt both ourselves and others? Jesus is risen from the dead, but has my life really changed?
Well, one thing that hasn’t changed is our own weaknesses and sinfulness. Like those disciples on that first Easter, we have doubts and fears. The women were afraid at the tomb, the disciples had no idea what to make of our Lord’s resurrection, and Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection in its entirety.
What is more, we live even in this Easter joy as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. How many of you think to serve your neighbor more than yourself. How many have you hurt in thought, word and deed? How many have you slandered or gossiped against? How much have you coveted? Sin abounds, dearly beloved. Our weakness and rebellion seems to have no end.
This is why the “so what” of Easter is so important. The so what of Easter is that God forgives your sins. It’s that simple. Jesus’ death and resurrection have paid the price. God forgives your sins. He does not count them against you. He counts them against Christ on the cross, and that has now been paid.
But if that isn’t enough, God has instituted and put into place a delivery system so that this forgiveness would go into your ears and heart. God is not satisfied with having this left in a book, like some sort of manual you are to follow. No, God has created the Church and the Office of the Ministry, the pastoral office, so that your sins would be forgiven in the flesh, so that you would hear it with your own ears over and over and over again. For while we are weak and rebellious, He knows our sins and seeks to overcome them by the power of His Word.
He does this in the Church. Martin Luther writes about this great work of the Church in the Large Catechism:
55 Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the ‹grace of the› Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us. For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but ‹continuous, uninterrupted› forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another [Galatians 6:1–2].
This is a forgiveness place. That is why we are hear. We receive God’s forgiveness through the ministry of the Word, and in turn we learn to forgive one another.
Now you know as well as I do that forgiveness doesn’t come any easier for us than faith came for doubting Thomas. This is why forgiveness doesn’t just happen once. Forgiveness is an event that was won for you on the cross and the empty tomb, but it keeps coming, it keeps working, it continues until the end of time. That is God’s fleshly love for you.
That is the purpose of the Church. The church is the forgiveness place. In the same way, that is the purpose of the Office of the Ministry. We confess the following together in the Small Catechism:
What is the Office of the Keys?*
?The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?*
?This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’ (John 20:22-23).
What do you believe according to these words?*
?I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
That is a mouthful, I’ll grant you. But it is very simple. The purpose of pastors is to forgive sins. This happens publicly in preaching and teaching and in the public absolution, in baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar.
This also happens privately in holy absolution. God uses all of these means to continuously work forgiveness in you, so that your conscience may be at peace, so that you may live as He intends you to love, free and at peace with Him and with one another. And because you have this forgiveness, you are free to forgive one another. There is nothing to fear in forgiveness. It is yours. It is abundant and knows no end. So forgive one another. Be free of your hatred and bickering. Be free of your doubts and let go of the hatreds that you harbor. Christ has taken them with Him to the grave. Why cling to them any longer?
This is our great and mighty work here at Messiah Lutheran Church. Well, it is God’s great and mighty work, and in His He lets us be a part of His holy purpose. So come to the Altar of God, be forgiven, live and be free in Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose again for your forgiveness. In His name, Amen.