Second Sunday of Easter: New Faith
Every year, the gospel for the second Sunday of Easter does not change, that is, John 20:19-31. The scene is a locked room where the disciples are hiding in fear and hopeless. The hope of the kingdom of .God coming through Jesus Christ has been shattered. It all ended in total disaster and everything went wrong in the worst way possible.
The disciples were in fear that the Jews would arrest them because they were with Jesus and they would be executed. The Jews were supposed to be their brothers, so it is a worst kind of fear even for family or for brothers. The disciples were probably anxious, too, because they abandoned their Lord. Jesus was killed because they denied Him, betrayed Him and abandoned Him save for one disciple. They were in their worst fear and in great distress. Then, Jesus appears and penetrates their locked doors and windows and says to them, “Peace be with you!”
Imagine ourselves in our past, in our present and in our future; in our worst condition of fear, and hopelessness, and hearing Jesus say to us, “Peace be with you! I have overcome death, sin, and here I am saying to you, ‘Peace, be reconciled with My Father!’” This is what Jesus’ resurrection is all about.
Jesus showed His wounds on His side, feet and hands that represented the worst man could throw and inflict upon God. Jesus says, “Is this your worst? Is this your best shot? I have forgiven! I say to you, ‘Peace!””
Sometimes, we feel like the sin that we have committed is beyond God’s forgiveness. Don’t be fooled. This is the voice of the enemy accusing you and trying to deceive you. No sin is bad enough that Jesus cannot forgive because He has overcome, even the worst of what sin can result in, which is death. Jesus comes from the new world. We say in the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Jesus has already resurrected from the dead, the first born of all creation and from among the dead. He has passed on to the other side; He is already in the life of the world to come. From there, He comes back to us and says, “Peace!” because in the new world, peace reigns; love reigns; forgiveness reigns. This is what Jesus tells us so as to dispel our worst fears and be delivered from them and have peace.
Jesus further said to His disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit and forgive. If you forgive the sins of any, they will be forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they will be forgiven. But I say to you, ‘Forgive.’” We have been commissioned to forgive – not to moralize; not reprimand. We are not to choose who to forgive; we are not to evaluate who is worthy or deserving of forgiveness, but we are called, commissioned and deputized to just forgive! Release God’s forgiveness because we have received that freely, so we freely give it as well. In the first place, this is the instruction of our Lord and King.
Opt to out of the blame game. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What we have received is the Holy Spirit advocacy of freedom, unity, peace, grace and mercy. We did not receive the un-holy spirit of somebody else. The unholy spirit is the opposite of the Holy Spirit which is the spirit of the accuser of the brethren. This spirit condemns and blames. When tragedy happens, the first question we should NOT ask is, “Who can we blame?” As Christians, the first question that we should ask is, “Who can we forgive? Who needs deliverance from their guilt and shame?” This is our calling; this is our commission; this is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit for – so that we can be empowered and enabled to forgive.
It is not our responsibility to do an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Maybe there are laws enforced for these, but we, as Christians, generally, are to forgive and to proclaim God’s forgiveness. We don’t choose who to forgive; we just forgive. It is said that only God can forgive, but He has commissioned us to do so. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Receive God’s forgiveness and His peace without doubting, make Him our Lord and God, and then, also proclaim forgiveness. We say, “What if I meet somebody who doesn’t deserve forgiveness?”
We won’t find anyone who deserves forgiveness – all of us – but we flood the world with forgiveness. We sing, “Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory. Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire. Flow, river, flow, flood the nations with grace and mercy.” By definition, grace is something given to somebody who doesn’t deserve it. Mercy is not getting what you deserve, but it is given to you. We flood the nations with God’s grace and mercy.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel had a vision of the altar of the temple, and water flows from the altar. First, it comes in trickles, then, it flows from the altar to the nave of the temple, and then it goes out of the temple. As it becomes farther and farther, it becomes deeper and wider. There is a fountain flowing deep and wide, and this fountain is not the literal water, but the fountain of forgiveness flooding the world with grace and mercy. We are part of this fountain, and the water flows into a global wilderness of hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness. Forgiveness is what will change the world.
Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world because sin is what corrupts, destroys and leads to death. Before sin entered creation, we were good. Individually, creation was good; but collectively, it was very good. Taking away sin renews the face of the earth, brings about the new creation, and hastens the coming of the kingdom of God – the life of the world to come. The world is a wilderness, thirsting for water.
The song “Christ is Alive” says, “In every insult, rift and war, where color, scorn, and wealth divide, Jesus suffers still, yet, loves the more.” Jesus is not comfortable with scorn, with strife, with discrimination, with racism, with looking down on people, with categorizing people. These hurt Him because His heart is for the marginalized. He suffers still, and yet, He forgives. He loves the more. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. He doesn’t run away from sin; He takes away the sin.
Jesus breathed into the disciples the Holy Spirit. If we are close enough to Jesus, to be intimate with Him, we will be in within His breathing distance. We will be able to receive the Holy Spirit in a higher dosage than those farther. We will breathe His breath, and it is the breath of life – the Holy Spirit. Then, we will be empowered; then, we will be enabled to proclaim His forgiveness and His mercy.
It is not our choice, our license, or our authority to evaluate who is worthy or who is not worthy to receive. This is not a choice. If our brother sins against us, forgive him – seventy times seven. Jesus doesn’t give us a choice, but an instruction to forgive.
In Luke10, St. Luke narrates how Jesus sent the seventy disciples in pairs to go to the houses and cities with these instructions, “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.” He did not tell them to ask, “Are you worthy?” “Did you go to confession first before I came?” Jesus’ instruction was for them to say, “Peace be to this house,” whether they are worthy or not. He continues to say, “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” The choice of giving the peace is not ours; we just give it. The choice of receiving is up to those whom we will give the peace to, and this is what love is – one way.
While we were yet sinners, Christ loved us. While we were enemies, Christ loved us. He did not wait for us to be good first and to reconcile with Him first. He loved us before we love Him. We respond by loving Him back, but love does not seek its own and it doesn’t seek any return. This is what forgiveness and mercy is. The choice is on the recipient. If they receive it, peace will rest on them; if not, peace will not rest on them, but we give it anyway because this is our calling.
The character of God is to give, to love, to forgive. If we choose to retain or to withhold, then, we are choosing between freedom and bondage. If we release forgiveness, we will be free; if we hold it in, we will be in bondage to sin.
Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, was a victim of political persecution and racism. He was imprisoned and on the day of his freedom, he was quoted as saying, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred, I would still be in prison.” This may be a worst kind of prison – a prison of bitterness and unforgiveness. This prison will consume us from the inside and eventually will kill us.
Jesus conquered death and unforgiveness. Jesus is the first born of the dead. I would like us to call ourselves as the second born. We follow Jesus’ lead and make forgiveness and peace our initiative. We don’t wait until somebody is repentant. It would be good for them to repent, but we give forgiveness.
When Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, He saw a lame man and told him, “Your sins are forgiven,” even if the lame did not come to Him crying and being sorry for his sins. The Pharisees and the religious leaders objected and said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone.” Jesus said, “What do you want Me to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven or rise up and walk?’” The point is Jesus gave His forgiveness without people asking. In fact, we weren’t born yet when He died for us so how could we have asked Him for forgiveness? Jesus gave peace to us. Peace is Jesus’ initiative. Peace is His welcome to the new world, the new heavens, the new earth. It is the first word and the way it in that world.
Ironically, we have a paradox on the first Easter Sunday. Morning of that day, Jesus got out of the tomb. In the evening, the disciples hid themselves in a locked room as if burying themselves in a tomb. The good news is that no matter how much we lock ourselves in self-pity, Jesus penetrates and comes to us saying, “Peace be with you!” Then, He uses us, and sends us to spread this peace and the forgiveness and to be part of the fountain that floods the nations with grace and mercy. In our worst fear, in our worst despair, hopelessness and uncertainty, we can say, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, I can walk victoriously. Because He lives, I can face the challenges that I face every day. Because He lives, I can work with my boss. Because He lives, I can love my obnoxious officemate. Because He lives, I can live with my spouse happily ever after because Jesus said to love and this is our initiative.”
In another scene, the disciples were in the Upper Room right before Pentecost. The situation was totally different for they were in unity. There could have been a scene of faultfinding or of guilt trip but they forgave each other. John could have confronted Peter of his denial of Jesus. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not say anything to Jesus’ disciples. There was no condemnation, no fault finding, but they were in unity; they forgave each other; and they flooded each other with grace and mercy. This resulted in revival. They didn’t just increase in number, but in the understanding and the knowledge of the love of God. It flowed through them as well.
This is the blueprint for real Church growth. It starts with peace. Jesus did it twice. The gospel today ends with John saying, “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ who must suffer and rise for the repentance and the forgiveness to be preached to all nations.” This is what Jesus Christ is all about – forgiveness and repentance to be preached to all the nations so that we might have life in His name.
Life is the result of a proclamation of the forgiveness and repentance and grace and mercy so that we can be victorious in all areas of life and walk in victory of Jesus in the resurrection of Easter. The same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us, quickening our mortal bodies, and empowering us to spread His peace to flood the world with forgiveness, grace and mercy for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.