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 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, our faith wondered and pondered 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 slowly begin to move through the Forty Days of Easter, we shall, I pray 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 will radically alter and forever change our understanding of what it means to be risen with Christ.
But, to be sure, as this was no easy task for the Apostles, so it will not be for us. 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. Then their minds might have jumped to the Empty Tomb wondering 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) And to be sure 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 approached Him, but He told her not to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to the Father. (Ibid, 17) She must have imagined it and seen a ghost. 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 wondered with utter astonishment? The door was bolted shut. 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 they began to see clearly that the Lord had risen from the dead. Needless to say, the Apostles must have been flummoxed and bewildered with near incredulity. 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 the Lord Jesus. For here surely is a Divine Being who can walk through shut doors yet in the body bearing the marks and scars of the Crucified Man.
Yet, this Risen Christ wastes no time with calling His friends into the new life that they witness and endure. The life 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 and continues His mission to them, from that time when he had left off to go to His suffering and death. And yet their emerging faith, their knowledge and love seem to be growing in the face of this Resurrected Jesus’ wounds and His scars. Thus, slowly but surely, what begins to be believed, embraced, and understood by the Apostles is the fact that Christ’s death on the Cross is somehow taken into this His Resurrection appearance to them. The fact is echoed this morning in St. John’s First Epistle. There we read 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 a Divine Jesus only, or the one who was baptized with water by John Baptist in Jordan said, 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 God as Man who has suffered and borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world. The impression that strikes them most is that Christ’s suffering and death are taken up and incorporated into His Resurrection and new life. And Christ imparts this truth to them not merely by manifesting and revealing the wounds in His Resurrected Body. From the external and visible He draws them into the inward and spiritual. As the Father had sent Him, so He will send the Apostles. (St. John xx. 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.
Notice that this first wave reveals the forgiveness of sins. Christ will indeed impart the Holy Ghost to them in phases and stages. What comes first is sending the Apostles out equipped with the forgiveness of sins through the Spirit of the Crucified One. Christ sends His friends out into the world by sharing and imparting His Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit incorporates them into that suffering and death which have established the forgiveness of sins. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (St. Luke xxiv. 29) The Spirit has infused the marks of His victory over sin into His new Body. Through the Spirit that He imparts to them, they can participate in His defeat of sin, death, and Satan. In His gift, they must receive the forgiveness of sins if the victory is to be effective. He has forgiven them and will forgive others. 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 who will embrace this reality as the wellspring and catalyst for the journey into salvation. 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 sense the need for the forgiveness of sins through the death of God’s only-begotten Son upon the Cross.
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) Here Christ begins to include them in His mission which is the new life of His Resurrection. Again, this mission and new life emerge and proceed from 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 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 in Jesus Christ. We must suffer to embrace the Grace that overcomes our sins, bringing to death whatever stands between us and God. Only in so doing do we become members of the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ. Also, we must suffer and endure the world’s rejection of this truth. The world won’t like it one bit. For then, only in suffering to die to ourselves can we help others to bring their suffering in sin to Jesus Christ for death and burial. Only then can we share the good news of the forgiveness of sins with the world. Then we shall know 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 carrying us over to the blessed Land of Promise. (Ibid, Jenks, p. 371) Amen.