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Easter 2 – John 20:19-31

by pastorjuhl ~ April 28th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Jesus shows His resurrected body to His disciples, allowing them to see His wounded hands and side. Then He breathes on them and says, receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

These words of Jesus are the foundation of the Office of the Keys given to Christ’s Church. These words, along with familiar words about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are the foundation of the spreading of the Christian Church throughout the world. From this locked room to Bethany, back to Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and the entire world, the disciples went forth preaching what they saw. They saw Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, raised from the dead. They went forth with a mandate: preach and teach the Gospel, baptize in the Name of the Triune God, forgive sins, and administer the Lord’s Supper according to the Testament given them on the night when Jesus was betrayed. These are the Holy Things for the Holy Ones. These are the treasures of the Church. These treasures come from the “full-bodied” Christ, whom “ghost busters” cannot trap. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is still both God and man, though He no longer quiets His divine nature. Jesus shows Himself in His glorious fullness after the resurrection.

The gospel writers show Jesus doing marvelous signs during the weeks after the resurrection and before His ascension. Perhaps the most astounding sign, yet seemingly unheralded, is the mandate to forgive sins. Even Luther’s Small Catechism doesn’t quite know what to do with it. For years, the Catechism in English did not teach how a Christian should confess their sins. Was it because there was a fear of any ritual that might be deemed “too Roman Catholic”? We’ll never know this side of heaven. Nevertheless, the Office of the Keys was elevated over how a Christian should be taught to confess their sins. There’s nothing wrong with either part of the Catechism. They both are gifts given by Jesus to His Church.

However, there’s something uncomfortable about confessing one’s sins to someone else. We often hear about someone going “hat in hand” to another person in order to apologize and ask for forgiveness. When two Christians do this, it is an exercise of the Office of the Keys. Two people, in their vocation as citizens and Christians, mutually converse and console one another. It’s become so much a part of us that perhaps we have taken apologizing and forgiveness for granted. Worse yet, we withhold forgiveness in order to make someone simmer a bit in the stew pot of guilt and shame. Still worse yet, we refuse to forgive someone because what they did to us was so heinous, so merciless, that there can be no forgiveness. There might be revenge on our part. There might be hot tongue and cold shoulder with it too. But forgiveness? Why should I forgive!

We should forgive because our Father in heaven first forgave us through Jesus’ blood and merit. We have peace with God, but we want no peace with our neighbor when they admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness. It’s as if we wish to suck the Holy Spirit out of them. What looks to us as a “make ’em squirm” moment could actually lead to despair on their part and having our sins retained against us by God.

What does it mean to have sins retained when the Office of the Keys are used? It means that the key to heaven locks someone out of eternal life either because they retain a sin out of spite or because they are a sinner who refuses to repent of a sin and bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Perhaps the best example of a retained sin involves fornication, sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony. A man and a woman share a bed together, usually under the guise of living as husband and wife though they are not recognized by the state or by the Church as husband and wife. They flaunt their sin before God and the world. The couple acts like they are married but are not married. The state has all but given up on this matter, allowing unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, to do things that married couples normally do. Even some Christian communions nod at this behavior and refuse to follow God’s Word. They refuse to use the Office of the Keys, binding sin against those who will not repent and walk a different way.

The binding key and loosing key are not arbitrary, intangible things. When the Church uses the Keys properly, the Church deals with holy, heavenly matters. The Church may lock someone out of heaven or welcome someone into heaven. This is a big deal and should not be entered into lightly! The Church does not take pleasure in binding sin. However, the Church rejoices when she looses sin and opens the gate to Paradise for penitent sinners begging for mercy and forgiveness!

Using the Keys, absolving and binding sins, are God’s gift given through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit accompanies the Word of Christ, making living beings out of dry, dead bones. God builds His Church out of nothing, preaching the Word to dead and fallen sinners. When His Spirit goes forth with the Word, marvelous things happen. Dead things become alive. Dry things are moistened with baptismal water. Bodies once cut off from hope are restored to hope. Listen again to Ezekiel: prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it, says the LORD.’ “

The Spirit-powered Word brings people out of graves. The Word brought forth Lazarus. The Word will bring us forth on Judgment Day, when Jesus will speak alive the saints in Christ who have gone before us in the faith. The Word will recreate the Church Militant into the Church Triumphant, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Forgiven, restored, redeemed, we travel with Him to the New Jerusalem, where the Light of the Word shines forever, eliminating darkness forever.

All this joyous hope in forgiveness of sins begins in a locked room, for fear of the Jews, from a “full-bodied” Christ Who breathes and bestows His Spirit upon ten, later eleven, frightened men. Soon their fear is turned to confidence through the descent of the Holy Spirit. Thousands will hear the Gospel and turn to the Lord. The power of forgiveness reigns in the Church today because our heavenly Father first forgave us because of Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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