Last week, I wrote some thoughts about John 20:19-31, drawing some connections between Jesus commissioning his disciples and beginning his new creation. This week, I want to offer a short reflection on the actual mission he gives the apostles: Go and forgive.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
We get so invested in the “Jesus” part of the biblical story that it can be difficult to keep the whole thing in view. Can you remember the way this story begins, all the way back in Genesis? It was good—so good that the Bible tells us six times, and wraps it all up with, “It was very good.”
Before we decided we wanted to be our own gods, we had everything—good relationships with God, with each other, and with the creation. Do you remember when God breathes life into humanity and tells them to go into the world and be fruitful and multiply—”enjoy and establish my peace, where everything works together as it should, where you can be naked and not worry about someone taking advantage of you”—that kind of peace that we forfeited for a piece of fruit? In John 20, Jesus is establishing that kind of peace again. As God breathed life into Adam, the truer and better Adam is breathing his new life into the apostles.
But before he breathes this life of the new creation into them, he says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
At the beginning of this story the apostles are in a locked room. They were afraid of what would happen to them if they were recognized. I imagine Peter, probably sitting off by himself, replaying in his head over and over those three times where he said, “I don’t know this guy. I’ve never seen him before. I don’t care what happens to him.” And Jesus comes and stands in the middle of them, and says, “Peace. You can have peace. Look at my wounds. They were yours, but they’re mine now. They don’t have any power over you.”
And the next thing he says is what I want to focus on here today: “Now get out of here. Don’t sequester yourselves from the rest of the world. Don’t be afraid. I took the wounds, and look, here I am. I have a mission for you: Go and forgive.”
Christian brothers and sisters, we have been commanded by Jesus to declare God’s forgiveness to the world. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us! We know that this isn’t an easy mission. It feels an awful lot like wounding, because we’re going to be wounded in the process of fulfilling this mission. It’s going to feel like sacrifice, because we will have to give up everything to accomplish our task. But Jesus gave up everything so that he could be for us—so who will we not be for? Who will we not welcome into this church family? Who will we not forgive?
Forgiveness is the instrument through which Jesus is establishing his new peace on this earth. And every time we tell somebody, “God has forgiven you,” or, “I forgive you”—every time we give money to those who need it, or welcome people into our homes, or invite that coworker that nobody likes out to lunch, every time we lay down our lives, we’re establishing peace. We’re breathing new life, his life, into the world.
As the Father has sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us. We are the Body of the wounded Christ—the Christ who was broken but could not be beaten. We will be broken, but we will not be beaten, because the victory has already been won. The one who won forgiveness for us is sending us out into the world to declare that forgiveness to any and everyone who will listen. So go, and forgive.