Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesus Empowers His Church to Forgive - Martin L. Smith

As part of my 2013 Lenten Journey I'm reading
"Reconciliation: Preparing for Confession in the Episcopal Church" by Martin L. Smith.
Below I've transcribed a section which illustrates
how the Church became empowered to forgive sins:

Jesus Empowers His Church to Forgive

          If his authority to forgive sins were a strictly personal prerogative of Jesus, inevitably expiring with his death, incidents such as the ones we have just considered would inspire little more than wistful envy. Instead, Jesus' followers insisted that he communicated this same authority to them. The pardon that Jesus bestows on men and women such as the paralytic and the woman who came to the Pharisee's house had proved to be not an isolated phenomenon peculiar to his own ministry, but the first signs of a new era in the relationship between God and humanity.
          Forgiveness of sins, however, was no mere intellectual deduction from past words of Jesus, nor the results of theological reflection on the crucifixion and resurrection. It was at the heart of the disciples' personal encounter with the risen Lord. Jesus appeared to them just as they were; they had abandoned him, and were now paralyzed by fear and faithlessness and the guilt of their desertion. In their way the disciples had participated in the total rejection of Jesus, which had unmasked the intensity of human resistance to God's love. Their complicity in the betrayal and their share of the guilt lay as an insuperable barrier between them and the master they had abandoned, one which could only be removed from his side by his forgiveness. The stories into which the early church distilled the varied and amazing encounters with Jesus in the weeks following that Sunday portray this first and fundamental experience of restoration and forgiveness.

Borrowed copy from St. Stephen's & the Incarnate, Washington, DC

          Jesus did not gloss over the appalling reality of the rejection of God which had sent him to a criminal's death. The denial and the covering up that so often masquerades as forgiveness in human relationships has no place here. Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side. God raised Jesus from the dead still marked with the wounds of his rejection and execution, and the ones who deserted him were forced to contemplate these wounds and weigh their terrible significance. The account in John's gospel condenses the experience in words of memorable power. "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut 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'" (John 20:19-21). This restoration is immediate, effective and complete; there is no probation period and no task of reparation. The fullness of their restoration is shown by the fact that Christ admits them into his trust unconditionally, there and then, by entrusting them with the continuation of his mission in the world for which the Father had sent him.
          The union between Jesus and his followers is cemented by his sharing with them the Holy Spirit, with which he had been endowed at his baptism in the Jordan: "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" But this restoration of trust and sharing is not a private matter of reconcilation between Jesus and his special companions. Rather, they are the first to benefit from the reconciling death of Jesus, which had unlimited scope and universal relevance. At the beginning of the gospel John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). Their mission is to include all into this new experience of union with God, offering to everyone who will receive it the forgiveness into which they have now been admitted by the risen Lord. "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained" (20:22,23).

Procession of the Cross - St. Stephen's & the Incarnate, Washington, DC 2-24-13

Chapel @ St. Stephen's & the Incarnate, Washington, DC 2-24-13

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