Saturday, April 18, 2009

Confession, Absolution, Confession

Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2009
John 20:19-31

When you look around you you see things that are fragile, as if they’re a mist that is faint, that you feel slightly but know will not last. If you examine your life you might be holding on to missed opportunities, mistakes you’ve made that you can’t change but would do almost anything if you could go back and change them. If you measure where you stand, what you’re facing, you may be wondering how you’re going to get through the challenges ahead, the unfair situations you’ve found yourself in, or the messes you’ve created for yourself.

You may be on edge, you may be on the verge of despair, you may simply feel like not caring anymore. You may look around you and wonder if it’s all real; how a good and powerful God could allow the decay, the sorrow, the pain to go on in this world He created. You might be wondering what your life has come to that God allows you to live with the hardships you face, the sins you struggle against, the pain you endure in your own life.

You might not know where you can turn to; to find some comfort, to have meaning for your life, to be at peace. You may feel like your life is simply grasping at something that’s just out of reach. It’s so close you can taste it. It’s tantalizing and depressing at the same time, because you’re not sure really what it is you’re looking for, what you need—you just know that it’s out of reach.

On the other hand, you may feel great; you may be content. You might feel like things are going on just fine and there’s nothing really that you need to be in a better position. Oh sure, you’ll take the good things that come your way, but not rocking the boat is just fine with you.

There’s an answer readily available. Everywhere you turn you will see that answer. Because there are three sources that will hold this answer up to you constantly. They will not rest in offering you hope for your struggles or confirmation of your peace of mind. What is this hope? You can be at peace with who you are. You can celebrate your humanity and not let people bring you down by insinuating that you’re the problem; that you’re too blame. Or, if you’re happy where you’re at, there you go! Isn’t that what God wants for you?

The ones who offer you this gospel of celebrating who you are and being at peace with yourself are your enemies. They seek your destruction. They seek your torment in hell. You know these enemies—even though you don’t want to think about them much: Satan, the world, and your sinful flesh. They want to present you with a hope that appeals to you so that you will die slowly, without realizing it. Like the frog in the kettle, slowly roasting to death, unaware of its doom.

Your enemies will always present you with hope in any way, of anything or anyone other than Christ. Anything to get you off of Him and onto yourself or something else. Satan wants you destroyed. The world wants you to enjoy the ride. Your sinful flesh wants you to indulge yourself. All three want you nowhere near Christ and His cross.

The one who stood before the disciples on Easter Sunday was the Crucified Lord. The one who had been nailed to the tree. The one who had died. He now stood before them in their world of fear, consisting of a locked up room, alive. Still bearing the scars of His crucifixion, Christ appeared to them in order to slap around the enemies that were against them—Satan, the world, and their sinful flesh. This is always why Christ comes. He doesn’t offer you some better way. He simply comes into your life.

And when He does, it’s not always pretty. It’s not necessarily appealing. Oftentimes we’ll do the denial act like Thomas, like the other disciples had done before him. We will end up deceiving ourselves and calling God a liar. Because who do you want to put your hope in? How do you want your salvation to come? How do you want your new life in Christ to be? Is it without hardship and struggle? Is it with peace of mind without constantly grasping at some nebulous peace that it is tantalizingly out of reach?

Do you want salvation to come in the form of a God who shows you scars on His hands and in His side, one who bears the marks of having suffered in weakness and pain? One who by His very nature prompts you to see in yourself things that aren’t pretty, that evidence your wicked and sinful heart? One that comes bringing with Him His Sword, which pierces your heart so that you must see that there is nothing within you that could bring you peace that lasts? So that the only way you could convince yourself that you are not by nature sinful and unclean is by deceiving yourself and calling God a liar?

Jesus stands before you and you must confess your sin. You must stand before Him and answer for your hope that what you’re grasping for is within your reach. When in fact it’s entirely out of your reach. When in fact there’s no hope within your sinful flesh. Confession of sin is tough stuff. We want to hold on to some part of ourselves where we can walk away with some dignity. But the apostle John was there on that Easter evening. He heard the words of Christ. Forgive those who are repentant. Withhold forgiveness from those who are unrepentant. That’s why John exhorts us as he does in the epistle reading to confess our sins. Strip away all notions of hope or peace of mind within ourselves and confess that we utterly depraved.

Jesus doesn’t get His jollies out of this. He didn’t show up to the disciples’ hideout to rub it in that they were poor miserable sinners. His joy is in the Absolution. He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. God always tells the truth. You have no hope apart from Him. God delights in showing mercy. The one who stood before them stood with scars from the suffering He bore on behalf of the world. When the nails were driven into His hands your sins were nailed to that cross. When the sword pierced His side blood and water poured out of Him to cleanse you of your sin; His righteousness poured out for you. You are absolved. Forgiven. You may go in peace. When Jesus comes that’s what He brings. Because He brings Himself.

His peace, His joy, His salvation, His forgiveness is not out of reach. It is received by you because He delivers it right to you, through your ears when you hear the Absolution spoken to you and when you hear the Gospel proclaimed to you. It is received by you when you are Baptized, cleansed of all of your sins; united to Christ in His death and resurrection. It is received by you when you eat His Body and drink His Blood in His Holy Meal. He’s not just going to stand around and show you His scars. He’s going to deliver their benefits to you, in His Gospel and in His Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This is what they received that day. It’s what the Christian Church has been receiving ever since that day. It’s what Luke describes in the reading from Acts: the apostles were proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ for the salvation and life of the people of God. It’s what John was telling the Christian Church of in the epistle reading when he said that they were witnesses of the Living and Resurrected Lord. It’s what you receive today and often in the hearing and the receiving and the partaking.

So you have confession. You have Absolution. You confess your sins and in being absolved you have life eternal and life in peace that is not of this world. What more is there to know? Only this: confession. There is not only confession of sins but confession of faith. Thomas blurted it out: My Lord and my God! That’s what we Christians do, we confess our faith. He had repented, he had received Absolution. We believe that our only hope is in the only God, the God of the cross and the empty tomb—so we confess it. We can’t help it! Just like Thomas, my Lord and my God!

John said that he wrote these things so that we may believe and that by believing have life in His name. You believe. You have life in His name. You have confessed your sins, you are Absolved. You confess your faith as a Baptized child of God and you receive the Body and Blood of your Lord in His Holy Supper. Far from out of reach, He comes to you right here at His Holy Table. You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Your Lord and your God is your hope. Your Lord and your God is your your life and your salvation, now and forever. Amen.


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