2nd Sunday of Easter
1 May 2011
St. John’s, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was a thrilling moment! Even after all the amazing pomp and ceremony of the wedding, with the million-or-so well-wishers all over London, there was something incredible about the royal family appearing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Prince William and his new bride.
If you looked carefully, you could read her lips as they stepped out onto the balcony. “Oh, WOW!” Amazed at the estimated 100,000 people approaching and cheering for her and her Bridegroom, Catherine had a moment of unbelief. She and William were both there, in the flesh, but it was almost too good to be true.
Catherine had a moment like Thomas, who found Jesus’ resurrection too good to be true. Although Thomas would have felt this out of despair, as He saw His Lord wounded and killed.
Jesus still bears permanent wounds in His Body. But again, they do not admit defeat; they bear witness to His victory. The Lord reaches out to St. Thomas, and shows him His amazing triumph over sin and death.
For the first eighteen years of my life, every Sunday I would be reminded of this moment. On the altar of Christ Lutheran in Peoria, above the crucifix, is a statue of the Risen Christ, showing His sacred wounds to Thomas. What a blessing and joy!
This image is one of extreme comfort. It is Jesus—“Divine Mercy” in the flesh—showing His ultimate glory and mercy as He reveals His precious wounds that poured out His Blood. Christ, in His compassion, does not let Thomas remain condemned in His unbelief. He has mercy on Thomas and forgives Him, giving Him the very reassurance that he needs. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Jesus shows you His wounds! His Body is risen and glorified, yet the spear gash and nail prints are still there! Why? Because they show His glory! That IS God’s glory – that He in His flesh was wounded and died for you! Our Resurrected Lord shows His love, His mercy, His glory, His victory in these wondrous wounds.
Jesus does the same with you! He provides the reassurance that you need. He sends His pastors to forgive your sins and He covers you in His mercy. No matter how much doubt or unbelief you have, our Risen Savior does not leave you to remain in judgment; He forgives and gives. He forgives your sins, and gives you His pastors and His forgiveness.
The Victorious Christ stands before you today. At this moment, through these words, He is showing you His wounds, and giving you comfort. He is showing His wounds and speaking forgiveness into your ears. In a matter of moments, He will show His wounds as He places His Risen and glorified Body and Blood in your mouths.
But then there is another gift in which He displays His wounds and pours forth forgiveness and life – a gift that we often overlook. You see, this very passage records the moment when Jesus instituted Holy Absolution—the means of grace where you individually can confess to your pastor and receive absolution directly from him.
What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.
There is a modern myth that private confession is only a Roman Catholic thing. This is an attitude from which our Lord Jesus calls us to repent! You may not even realize that when the Catechism speaks of confession, it is really speaking of private confession, not the preface of the Divine Service that we all speak together.
Along with fellow Lutherans and various Protestants, it is easy for you to gain a certain arrogance and say, “I can confess straight to God, why would I have to confess to a pastor or priest?” Well, you don’t “have to,” but the Lord gives the joy and comfort of this gift to you! When you receive individual absolution, you have the treasure of forgiveness, and know from the touch of the pastor’s hands on your head, and the assurance of his voice, when you are the only one there, and know that the Lord is using the pastor to free you from your sin.
Repent of your arrogance. Shed your smugness. Christ calls you to confess your sin.
Yet our Lord Christ does not leave you stuck in your sin. He does not abandon you for your unbelief.
Our blessed Savior sends you His pastor who stands ready to hear your confession. And he then speaks Christ’s powerful Word that releases you from your sin, freeing you from your debt to God and forgiving your unbelief. As you admit your guilt and speak your sins into the pastor’s ear, those words go into a tomb, never to go out. And from his mouth comes resurrection! Yes, as you hear those blessed words: “I forgive you all your sin, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that new creature that was given birth at Baptism is raised again! And that is a true gift of His peace.
And who died and left him to forgive you? Jesus! Today’s Gospel reading is the very passage that records Jesus instituting this precious and holy gift! The Catechism reminds us:
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Praise God! Our Risen Savior comes to you today, and always, giving you exactly what you need: He shows you His wounds, from which His forgiveness and love and mercy have poured forth. And He gathers His people around His pastors, that this precious gift of Absolution may continue until He returns in glory.
Dear friends in Christ, see His wounds! Your sins are forgiven! Peace be with you! Amen.