Scripture: John 20: 1-23
For children’s time, Pastor Sarah brought out bags and bags of luggage and invited the children to try to hold them all. Some of the bags had big stickers on them that said things like “anger” and “fights: I don’t remember how they started” and “self doubt.” We talked about how tough it is to help others when we’re holding all of that…
This sermon continues that idea, encouraging us to forgive others, so that we might be freer to do the work to which God calls us.
Easter is a holiday about LIBERATION.
People thought Jesus had been captured and bound and humiliated and killed, but not even a mob of enemies, not even the great Roman empire, not even DEATH could bind up or destroy the love of God.
And whether you believe in the literal resurrection or a metaphorical one or no resurrection at all or you’re just not sure, you are free today to live into that mystery and discover what truth this story has for you today.
For me, there is NO doubt that the love of God survived to live again on Easter.
God is alive, not only in Jesus on Easter, but in all of us who seek to follow his example.
It’s a difficult idea to take in, that the work of Christ is now up to us, and the Disciples struggled with it themselves.
When Jesus appears to them,
he gives them a word of hope and encouragement
to help them understand that his story isn’t finished yet.
That God is still speaking.
In John’s version of the story, Pentecost comes early.
On the evening of Easter, Jesus returns and blows life into the Disciples, and says, “I give you the Holy Spirit.”
Saying, in effect, “Now it’s your turn.”
And unlike many examples in which the Disciples simply don’t get it, it appears that here, they do.
Because 2000 years later, we’re still here. And we’re still celebrating the living God in community.
Despite having been through a traumatic experience,
We know that eventually, they unlocked their doors,
left the house,
and started doing ministry in Jesus’ name.
Jesus sent them. And they went.
But in addition to saying “I send you,” Jesus gave them this other piece of wisdom that’s a bit more confusing at first.
He says, “If you forgive people, they are forgiven. If you retain their sins, they are retained.”
It sounds, at first read, like Jesus is giving them the power to hold people’s sins over them and control the balance of their good and bad deeds.
But reading the rest of the New Testament reminds us that God forgives us no matter what, and that grace is unconditional.
So what is Jesus actually saying here?
It seems to me to be a word of instruction.
“Forgive,” Jesus says.
And if you don’t…if you retain people’s sins,
if you hold onto them, as the Greek word suggests.
if you cling to them,
YOU will be the one holding on.
If you hold on to someone’s sin,
YOU will be the one holding on.
The weight, the heaviness of those mistakes will be carried by YOU.
The pain and the burden will be on the one who chooses not to forgive.
Whether it’s us not forgiving others or not forgiving ourselves—clinging to those mistakes and grudges and guilt weighs US down.
It ties up our emotional and spiritual energy.
<Sarah brings out one of the bags with stickers on it>
When we’re carrying all of this, it’s much more difficult to continue to the ministry of Jesus.
How can we possibly love our neighbors and welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned and feed the hungry when our bodies and souls are weighed down holding onto mistakes of the past?
This piece of instruction may be the most important Jesus gives his Disciples.
(other than love your neighbor as yourself)
Remember that when Jesus’ Disciples receive this news, it’s in the midst of a frightening and painful time.
They’ve just witnessed the religious and secular authorities and an angry mob arrest and murder their beloved teacher and messiah.
It seems natural and appropriate that they would harbor some anger and resentment.
But Jesus encourages them to start the hard work of healing and letting go.
Anyone can hold a grudge.
The hard work begins with forgiveness.
And the work of being the living Body of Christ, REQUIRES forgiveness.
If we take the leap to follow Jesus’ teachings,
we WILL encounter people who betray us,
who fear us and attack us,
and who try to stop us from doing the work of the Gospels. Jesus certainly did.
And we’ll also encounter our own self-down and fear and guilt. Jesus encountered those too.
And yet he chose to be forgiving.
To live a life full of grace,
knowing that nothing, not even mistakes or grudges or even death is meant to get in the way of the Good News.
Jesus’ final word to us on Easter is be free.
Leave our unnecessary baggage at the foot of the cross and
open our arms and hearts
that we might be ready to lift another’s burden
in the name of Jesus Christ.