Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.” John 20:21-23 (NRSV)
The Sunday following Easter is traditionally “Doubting Thomas” day. It’s when the majority of churches talk about Thomas the disciples who demanded to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hand and touch the wound in his side. Thomas wanted “proof” in order to really believe that Jesus was resurrected. Well, who can blame him!
But the passage hold so much more than the relationship between doubt and faith. It also talks about the Holy Spirit, and it is the writer of this gospel’s type of Pentecost when Jesus “breathes on the disciples” and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. If we want to see it as a metaphor, we can say that it was Jesus commissioning them to carry on his work in the world. He breathed into them the breath of life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Look at the last sentence above: Jesus reminds them that they have the power to forgive sins. That is part of what the resurrection brings to all humanity. God forgives us; therefore, we are to forgive others. So, what does it mean when he talks about retaining them?
When we lack forgiveness toward others, we hold onto unhealthy feelings, stuffing them inside and creating a negative environment in our spiritual, mental, and emotional lives. It doesn’t mean that we have the power to retain them; rather, Jesus is reminding the disciples (and that includes us) that forgiveness is the way of following Christ. We have life because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, and love are all part of how we treat others.
Having new life in Christ means that we are transformed and then have the opportunity to find ways to offer hope and transformation to others. We rise above the unforgiving world and offer life in the midst of chaos, fear, uncertainty, and worry. The breath of life that Jesus gives even us is the imparting of the Holy Spirit who helps us to live in Jesus’ ways and to forgive others (and even ourselves).
This is hard work! Yet, we aren’t alone in the journey Jesus has also breathed into us the breath of life, provided the companion for the journey, and given us partners in ministry to do the work we are called to do.
How will you share the breath of life with others?
In what ways has Jesus empowered us to BE the church?
Who do you need to forgive?