Sermon for Low Sunday 01 May 2011 – 8am (1662) Mass
St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch
AS THE FATHER SENT ME – SO AM I SENDING YOU!
Let us think, for a moment, about the events of that first Easter Day, when Mary Magdalene and the other women arrived at the tomb of Jesus and found it empty; and then, in St. John’s Gospel which we’re reading from today; he tells us how Mary recognised Jesus – not by his appearance, but by the way he spoke her name: “Mary” – in a way that probably no other man had ever spoken to her – lovingly, and without any hint of guile or possessiveness. And then we have today’s incident; when the disciples were met together in the upper room in Jerusalem – in fear and trembling in case the Temple Officials should come and round them up and offer them the same treatment as Jesus had suffered at the hands of the Roman Soldiers.
We can only try to imagine the conflicting emotions that would have been in their minds, as they perhaps tried to believe what Mary had told them – that Jesus was, indeed alive, and had somehow survived his crucifixion. However, they knew that his death had been a reality. Had some of them not lingered on the edge of the crowd as Jesus was taken down from the Cross? They had been too afraid to follow the sad little party who had borne him to the hillside tomb of Joseph of Arimathea They knew – beyond any shadow of doubt – that he had given up the ghost before his body had been taken away. And yet – the women had come to them in the Upper Room with this unlikely story that they had actually seen Jesus alive! But that was probably just women’s talk – an aberration – brought on by their grief, and not too reliable.
And then!…suddenly, in their midst, there was this uncanny sense of expectancy! Granted, it was now evening, and some of the disciples were probably feeling pretty tired and dejected BUT, there was no mistaking that voice – the voice they had listened to – almost mesmerised – when Jesus had explained to them his future plan to be among them again – but in a way that was to be altogether different – no longer in the flesh, but in some mysterious way, still present with them! AND THEN – the tremendous feeling of JOY, as they heard him speaking. That voice was unmistakably His – speaking to them as he had that day on the lake, when they had been terrified in the midst of the storm, and there he had been – lying down in the boat, sleeping. He had calmed them immediately with these very same words: “Peace be with you” And now came the big surprise – their commissioning for future ministry on his behalf: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”. And, as if to re-assure them that this was not only possible but happening in that very moment, He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained’.
Now this was an amazing concept; and it is something that the Church through-out the ages has taken to have given rise to a particular charism of the ordained ministry. Although – when we stop to think about it – this charge of Jesus is really meant for every single Christian disciple who believes in the forgiveness of God for every human being. Yes, the priest, as we know from the tradition, does have a special ministry of administering forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, as those of you know who have used this special sacrament of the Church at significant times in your life – perhaps before one of the great Feasts of the Church – like Easter or Christmas. This, we feel, has given us the opportunity to get rid of the rubbish in our lives that has seemed to hold us back from the fullness of life in Christ. – As we say in the old BCP liturgy: “We have left undone those things we ought to have done; and we have done those things we ought not to have done” – things which need to be put right with God and our neighbour that have robbed us of our peace of mind. The Sacrament of Penance gives us a wonderful opportunity to clean the slate, and allows us more fully to enter into the greatest sacrament of all – our Holy Common-union with the crucified, risen and glorified Lord, Jesus Christ. But is that gift restricted to the clergy?
There is another, wider view of what Jesus was doing here in the Upper Room with his disciples on Resurrection Day. He was imparting to them a most important truth about human relationships. He was telling his disciples that every time they offered forgiveness – of anyone – in His name; Jesus himself would administer that forgiveness! Likewise, if any disciple of Jesus were to hold back from forgiving anyone; that other person may never know what it is like to be forgiven by God! Now that may seem a very small point in relation to us, as ordinary people in the congregation. But when you look at it seriously; it has tremendous importance – not only for us as disciples of Jesus – but also for anyone from whom we withhold the gift of forgiveness!
Agape, Father Ron Smith, Christchurch