Sermon for April 11, 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter. 4, 11, 2021. Series B.
Vicar Sergio Rodriguez 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ, who breathes upon us the Spirit. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In the power of the Spirit, Jesus sends forth his disciples with this commission to forgive or to retain the sins of any. Though this commandment is as clear as day, one must ask how does forgiveness relate to the retaining of sins? If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Such phrase, beyond simplistically interrupting our Easter joy, has a sort of ominous tone; a kind of unforgivable sin lurking in the foreground. When may sins be retained? Why ought we to retain sins? Who ought to forgive or not forgive? As abstract as these questions have been posed many a time, these questions, our questions, as to how we are to forgive and who are as a forgiving people move us to consider the gift of the resurrection in the very wounds of our lives. Let us not forget that Jesus commissioned his disciples to forgive and to retain after the traumatic wounds of his passion, more like their passion. “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” serves to highlight forgiveness as God’s word for us through our neighbor in our great woundedness. As children of God, deeply wounded by guilt, sorrow, grief, trauma and pain, we inhabit what the theologian Shelly Rambo calls, the middle ground; an emotional-socio-psychological space between the memory of our pain and the newness of life in our Risen Lord. I think that from and in this middle ground our wounded and risen Lord Jesus breathes his wound embracing-Spirit so that we may be a wound-oriented people.

Consider then the company of the disciples and the excruciating experience many of them endured before, during, and after Jesus’ resurrection. The twelve saw Judas, one of their own, betray their beloved teacher. Simon Peter denied his teacher. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus must have seen Jesus’ trial first hand and were powerless to stop it. Mary, his mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple saw Jesus died a shameful death on the cross. These disciples knew all too well life in the middle ground; between life and death; shame and grace. So we are not surprised that despite Mary announcing to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, the company still felt the weight of hopes denied, sorrows sprung, grief abound, and self-resentment after the death of Jesus, what the theologian Andrew Sung Park has named as the experience of Han. Han occurs within anyone after being victimized or denigrated such as Jesus and his disciples. How could any of them consider forgiving their victimizers after such a traumatic experience? Ought not they retain sins of all at fault for their teachers’ execution?

So one may see that the disciples hid behind the closed doors of their meeting house because they continued to re-member the night when Jesus was betrayed; their Han. Understanding and embracing their Han, Jesus in the power of the Spirit appeared to his disciples so that he would be able to breathe on them a word of grace; a word coming from beyond their experience. Peace be with you. And Again he announced. Peace be with us. The words from Jesus’ farewell dinner come alive here. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Jesus wraps their wounds with his breath of peace; his spirit of peace that makes all things new. And as a part of his peace, Jesus shows him the wounds, re-presents for them their very Han in his hands and sides; his wounds are to be the very sign of the Spirit of peace; the Spirit that embraces our wounds with Jesus’ peace.

Without Jesus’ words of peace, his commission for us to forgive or to retain becomes a trite forgive and forget kind of attitude; as if the depth of human pain formed a part of a grace equation; deeper wounds requires a more profound sense of grace. When Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” he was not instituting a system of calculated penance or creating an extended discourse on the Office of the Keys of the Kingdom. Jesus commissioned his church to acknowledge the depth of our brokenness, the depths of our human condition and the reality our restoration will not be complete. We are in the middle ground between the memory of our brokenness and the newness of life. Yes, we are called to be a people of forgiveness who live by such words of grace. But we also a people who grant space for those whose wounds are so profound, that forgiveness may not abound. “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It is as if Jesus is speaking tenderly to us in this way, “If your Han is too great, if your woundedness or brokenness immeasurable, you are not forced to pardon others. You are not forced to heal of it. You are beloved. The Spirit who is love abides. Grace Abides. Love abides.”  Through his commission, Jesus calls us to be a wound-oriented people living by faith in the power of the Spirit.

A wound-oriented people. Jesus gives us such a challenging commission to be a wound-oriented people in the power of the Spirit when we may not know how best to speak or sustain the weary with a word. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, Life Together, acknowledges this difficulty in bringing forth grace in a broken world. He recognized that, “the Christ in our own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians.” In other words, it may not be enough for us to speak as wound-oriented people but to we are called to others with the nuance necessary in each distinct circumstance. Bonhoeffer says further, “the goal, our goal, of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” For some, I would say, that means allowing for silence to be their message of salvation; for folks to just breathe and just be themselves as they live through their woundedness.

This is the message of salvation for the types of traumas and wounds folks experience today; the experience of grief or anticipatory grief, loss of job, the experience of betrayal over clerical or political scandals, struggles with addiction to opioids and other substances, the traumas of gun related deaths. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” reminds us that as a people accustomed to wounds, whose faith is grounded in the wounded one, we are called to be a wound-oriented people. We speak from our wounds, we speak with the wounds of others, we listen to the wounds of others that peace may abound.

When the disciples hid behind closed doors for the second time, disciples and this time with Thomas, needed to once more to feel the wounds of Jesus; to trust that this resurrection is true. Thomas wanted to feel Jesus’ wounds because he wanted to see for himself the end of his own woundedness; he wanted Jesus to breath his Spirit upon him. Likewise we too, together with Dietrich, want to know the depth of grace that abounds in and through our wounds.. So we are lead to learn more about our wounds and others wounds, and how we are to embrace them in the Spirit. Such is our commission and our sending into our world; to live into the middle spaces; between hope and despair; death and life. Amen.