As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just come off of an intense Holy Week and Easter, when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ from His suffering, Passion, and Death into the first intimations and hints of His Resurrection. You will remember that last week we left Saints Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter having found the Empty tomb. Christ Jesus had not yet appeared to them, and so with them we wondered and pondered over what all of this might mean. What they did not know, and what we often forget, is that Christ was already working on their souls and preparing their hearts for His bodily manifestation to them. Christ is always working on our souls and preparing us for deeper union and communion with Himself. And as we begin slowly to move through the Forty Days of Easter, I pray that we shall begin to sense and perceive the meaning of His Resurrection for us. I say for us, because Jesus Christ is God the Father’s desire for us made flesh. And in Eastertide that desire for us helps us to understand what it means to be Risen with Christ.
But, to be sure, as this was no easy task for the Apostles then, so it will not be for us now. Just imagine what the Apostles must have been thinking when they endured the time of Jesus’ departure from them after Good Friday. Why, if only He were here, we might be able to express our sorrow, shame, and guilt over having abandoned, denied, and betrayed Him, they must have thought. Then He might forgive and heal us, as He had done so many times before. And then their minds jumped to the Empty Tomb, as they wondered if God had taken Jesus back to Heaven like Elijah and Moses,as they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews.(St. John xx. 19) Next there was Mary Magdalene’s account of how she had seen Him, after having thought He was the gardener. (Ibid, 15) Perhaps she was mistaken, and it was the gardener! She claimed that she had approached Him, but He had said, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. (Ibid, 17) She must have imagined it and seen a ghost, they think. Her love for Him was, after all, rather exaggerated, and the mind can do strange things through wishful thinking. So though she returns to them, and tells her tale, the Apostles remain tremulous, timorous, and apprehensive. And then, lo and behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side.(St. John xx. 20) How did He enter this upper room, they wonder with utter astonishment? The door was bolted shut. And yet no sooner had He entered than He shewed them His hands and His side. (Ibid) To be sure this was the Lord, for His presence was palpable and tangible. They saw clearly that He was with them, though they didn’t know how. He proclaimed Peace to them all, and then slowly but surely the scales fall from their eyes, and their faith and vision begin to see clearly and truly that the Lord had risen from the dead. Needless to say, the Apostles must have been flummoxed, bewildered, and approaching incredulity, and yet they were overcome and overtaken by some union and cohesion of the Divine and human, the supernatural and the natural, God and man in their Lord Jesus, and even now His real presence with them. For here surely is the Divine Son who though walking through locked doors, bears in His Body the marks and scars of the Crucified Man.
And yet this Risen Christ wastes no time in beginning to call His friends into the new life that they witness and endure. The life that they witness and endure, and which bears the marks of His suffering and death, continues the work that He was born to commence and complete. He says, Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and he breathed on them , and saith unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost…. (St. John xx. 21-22) It is as if He picks up His life and continues His mission to them here, in that very same place –the Upper Room, where He had left them to go on to His suffering and death. And yet now they begin to believe, see, grasp, and understood how Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross have congealed to reveal God’s Love in the flesh, not dead and gone, but risen and determined to affect their salvation. The fact is echoed this morning by St. John, in his First Epistle, who says that whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 St. John v. 4-6) The temptation has always and ever will be to worship the Divine Jesus who was baptized with water by John Baptist in Jordan. Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. (St. John i.33) But St. John the Evangelist tells us that He came not by water only, but by water and blood. (Idem) The Resurrected Jesus whom the Apostles begin to believe and follow is one who comes to cleanse all men from sin and guilt in that fountain opened for sin and all uncleanness, the precious blood of the Lamb of God, slain to take away the sins of the world. ( Prayers…, B. Jenks, p.225) What the Apostles begin to believe and grasp is that this Resurrected Jesus Christ is not merely God, but Man, Man who has suffered and borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world. The impression that strikes them most is that the wounds and scars of His suffering and death reveal the persistent Love and Passion in His Resurrection and new life. And Christ imparts this Love to them not merely by manifesting and revealing the price He paid, but by inviting them into the rich new life He’s purchased. As my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. (Ibid, 21) And so, He breathes on them that they might receive…the [first wave] of the Holy Ghost’s (Ibid, xx. 22) transformation of their lives.
But notice that the first wave of the Holy Spirit which Christ communicates and transmits to His Apostles is the commission to preach the forgiveness of sins through the Cross of His love. In so doing He sends them out to lay the groundwork of the Resurrection in His suffering and death to sin. His suffering and Crucifixion to sin, death, and Satan must become the prized possession and unmerited gift that will ground and establish, mold and fashion, and rule and govern their new risen life. In His death, they will find their death to the world, the flesh, and the Devil if they embrace the fact that He suffered and died in order to reveal and manifest the forgiveness of [their] sins. In fact what they must come to realize is that He is the forgiveness of sins. What the Apostles must remember, as St. Paul writes later, is that when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…and that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…and that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.(Romans v. 6,8,10) The point is that Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins for all those who will embrace this truth as the first principle of the new life of the Resurrection. Of course, some will receive it and some will not. Jesus says to the Apostles, whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (Ibid, 23) Sins are only retained for those who do not accept the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s pure and perfect, loving death upon the Cross, or for those who think that there can be Resurrection without Crucifixion.
But before we conclude, let me come back to a point which we touched upon earlier. We said that Christ is sending the Apostles as the Father has sent Him…through the Holy Ghost [whom] He breathes [upon them.](Idem) So He begins to include them in His mission and new life, and yet He sends them forth as those whoemerge and proceed from a His Resurrected Body that bears the marks of His suffering and death. The Apostles and all of us who would become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body must bear the marks of His suffering and death. We must thus become those who will suffer and die daily to all that stands between us and God’s will made flesh for us in Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sins offered to us expects a response. We must suffer the animosity, resentment, bitterness, anger, wrath, ill will, and malevolence –what our Collect for today calls the leaven of malice and wickedness, which we bear against all others, to die, as we become the forgiveness of sins in thought, word, and deed in relation to them. We must suffer the animosity, resentment, bitterness, anger, wrath, ill will, and malevolence, which all others bear against us, to die, as we become the forgiveness of sins in thought, word, and deed in relation to them. Why? Because only in so doing do we become members of the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ. Only in so doing will we then be resurrected from our own sin and our death to God, and all others’ sin and their death to God, and come alive to God’s desire for our salvation and theirs in Jesus Christ. Only then can we become part of that new life knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. (Romans viii. 28) And that in the end, though we be tempted by [earthly] excesses, or any lusts of the flesh, we shall not feast on the meat that perishes, nor sink the vessel [of our Resurrected body] that is [even now] carrying us over to the blessed Land of Promise. (Ibid, Jenks, p. 371) Amen.