Sunday’s Gospel reading contained this passage from John 20, “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
Shortly after Jesus inaugurated his Father’s New Creation by his resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to continue what he has started. Jesus instructs them to participate in the missio dei with, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I truly believe this statement forms the core of any missional engagement. The New Creation is implemented by continuing Jesus’ incarnation of God’s Presence and Life into the world.
So that there is no mistake, Jesus summarizes the essential components of an incarnational mission. They must receive the Holy Spirit and they must forgive sins. They cannot engage in this daunting task solely relying on their own strength and strategies. Human participation in the missio dei requires Christ’s likeness and God’s divine energies. This is especially apparent when one reflects on what is involved in forgiving sins.
Jesus means far more than simply declaring to a person forgiven from personal sins. To Jesus’ contemporaries, the forgiveness of sins meant the return from exile. Based on their covenant with God, Israel’s sins had sent them into exile and it would be God’s forgiveness of their sins that would initiate their return. But Jesus offered more than a geographical relocation or deliverance from foreign rule. When Jesus offered the forgiveness of sin, he was offering a new world order from the desolation of death into the eschatological kingdom of God.
And that is our ongoing role in God’s mission. To borrow a phrase from my priest, “All health broke loose” at Jesus’ resurrection. I really like that. At the resurrection, the renewal of God’s creation is launched. As we are sent as Jesus was sent, as we forgive sins and offer the return from exile, as we embody God’s kingdom, all health should break loose in us and around us.