The Charge that Empowers

Mary Magdala Community

“The Charge that Empowers”©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

Homily thoughts on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 7, 2016

The appearance of the Resurrected Christ on that first Easter Sunday evening has an interesting story to tell.  The combination of the gathering of his followers behind locked doors with Jesus’ charge of forgiveness shows up differently among the Gospels themselves.

So, let’s take a walk, with this story in hand, through the Gospels themselves.  The questions we’ll ask as we go have to do with who was there and who was charged.  First, we have today’s Gospel from John. (John 20:19-31)  In it we are told first that the disciples had gathered and then we’re told about the Twelve who are named separately from, or perhaps part of, the larger group of disciples.  Curiously, at this point in the story, the Twelve are no longer twelve given Judas’ suicide.  John chooses to refer to the Twelve while the Gospels of both Mark and Luke refer to the Eleven.  Nonetheless, there is some distinction between a larger gathering of disciples and the Twelve (or Eleven).

Our walk continues through the Gospel of Luke which refers to the gathering behind closed doors as a much larger group.  (Luke 24:36-49)  It is safe to say that at this Resurrection appearance a group larger than twelve was present.  We’re informed in John’s Gospel of Jesus’ charge to forgive.  In Luke’s Gospel where the larger group of disciples has gathered Jesus’s charge becomes a commission to preach forgiveness.

We next come to Matthew’s Gospel on our scriptural walk where this charge to forgive is given twice (Matthew 16:19; 18:18), both times outside of the Resurrection appearance of the previous two accounts.  The first time this charge to forgive is given is to Peter following his proclamation that Jesus is God’s Beloved.  The second instance is the exact same charge given to the disciples who had asked Jesus to teach them.

At the end of our walk what do we have?  We have an appearance of the Resurrected Christ on that first Easter Sunday night and already there are several stories taking shape on what occurred and who Jesus charged with this mission and ministry of forgiveness.

It could be that when you read the phrase,  “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you hold them bound, they are held bound,” you think of the role of the priest in the Sacrament of Penance.  But did you know that it wasn’t until the Council of Trent (well known for its anti-Protestant Reformation actions) that the Roman Church made the inseparable connection between this charge of Jesus and the Sacrament of Penance?  This would be some one thousand five hundred years after Jesus spoke and when his disciples heard their call to ministry.  In the history of the followers of Jesus this institutionalizing of Jesus’ words was not the only way.

You may have heard, for example, of the practice of the early Irish monks in which a young monk seeks one of his brothers (not necessarily ordained) in whom the younger one could confide and confess his sins.  This confidante was called, Anam Cara – a sort of combination Spiritual Director and soul mate.

The point is we are all charged with this ministry to forgive.  We, the disciples of Jesus must take up the ministry of forgiveness, particularly in an age when the ordained ones have presumed a misplaced exclusivity.  The people must speak to reclaim the power to forgive.

On Holy Thursday our community celebration of the Lord’s Supper & Institution of Priesthood was cancelled due to deteriorating weather conditions – thank you, Wisconsin in March.  As it happened, our Netflix movie arrived in the mail that day (I know, we should be streaming).  It was the film, “Spotlight.”  So we watched it on Holy Thursday.

This movie, as you may know, tells the story of 2 crises.  The first crisis was of the clergy sexual abuse of children in the Boston archdiocese.  The second crisis was of the reprehensible fashion in which the Boston bishops and Cardinal Law acted in mishandling and disregarding, some would say criminally, the first crisis.  At the end of the movie there is a list of dioceses around the world where similar crises occurred.  This list takes up three screens of three columns per screen all in small print – there being so any locations of clerical abuse and episcopal criminality.  And these are the people, namely the clergy, who are entrusted with the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance.

I don’t think so.  We live in one of those eras in which it is the disciples, all the followers of Jesus, who must reclaim the charge of Jesus. The charge of forgiving.  The charge of “Do this in memory of me.”  The charge of loving one’s neighbor.  The charge of “Go, and do likewise.”  The charge, even, of forgiving the institutional elite, that is the clergy.  (However, for instruction on how to treat scandal read Matthew 18:5-7)

We are Jesus for each other – plain and simple.  No clerical elite need get in our way.

We are the people, for example, who must reclaim reconciliation as the ecclesial path to forgive each other.  An untapped resource for this is the Communal Reconciliation we can ritualize in our sacramental life.  This reconciliation is not of a priest standing before a congregation and speaking a formula for forgiveness.  No, this is a reconciliation in which we forgive each other.  We are the ministers of the Sacrament of Penance.

So, what are we to make of this story – really, stories – of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the first night of his Day of Resurrection?  We have several so let’s pick one version.  However, the question is not which version is correct.  The question is which version empowers.

We live in an era in which the people – individually and collectively – must respond to Jesus who empowers each of us to celebrate the sacraments of his love, his forgiveness, his presence.

“Where two or three are gathered, there I am in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20)

A Prayer for Easter

We celebrate this Easter event of Resurrection and New Life.  It is your Gift of Love to us, Beloved Parent of Jesus.

He sacrificed his life to give us the model which is caring for others, responding to those in need, uplifting the depressed, bringing hope to those in despair.

We are disciples of Jesus, a gathering of believers.  Help us to give and to forgive, to assure that your light penetrates the dark.  We pray confidently to you, O God, through Jesus the Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign as one God now and forever.   Amen!       (JR)

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