Sermon 2 Easter, Yr C

2 Easter Yr C, 15/04/2007

Jn 20: 19-23

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Forgiving and retaining sins”


Today’s gospel highlights one of the, if not “the” most important roles of Christians—namely, the forgiveness of sins. On that first Easter evening, the resurrected Jesus comes to his disciples. Notice the mood of this night—the disciples were behind locked doors and filled with fear. Jesus comes among them suddenly, offering them his peace, then he shows them his marks of the crucifixion, his hands and side, as a visible reminder perhaps to prepare them for what he is about to do next. Notice that John tells us the response of the disciples, upon seeing Jesus’ hands and side they change from being afraid to rejoicing in the presence of their risen Saviour. Their mood has changed completely from sorrow, doubt and fear to joy, faith and celebration. Then, Jesus offers them his peace again and gives them their commission—as his apostles, they are sent out with his authority and with the power and help of the Holy Spirit to forgive and retain sins.

The sequence of events that John provides us with here is very important. I believe that John is highlighting for us the connection of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection with the ministry of forgiveness. Just as Jesus’ hands and side were a reminder that he died to forgive the sins of the world; and just as he showed his disciples that those sins did not keep him dead in the grave, but that God’s resurrection power defeated the powers of sin, death and evil; so now Jesus sends his disciples out into the world as his messengers of forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness puts to death our fears, our locked doors which paralyze us from living in the freedom of Christ’s love. Forgiveness brings with it new, resurrection life for us all, new beginnings; new opportunities to live the abundant life Jesus created and called us to live.

Forgiveness is a serious business! We cannot have heaven without it. “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26) God will not answer our prayers unless we a ready to forgive. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

We cannot even bring a pleasing gift to God without forgiveness. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Beside all this, medical doctors and psychiatrists inform us that we can’t even live in optimum health here upon earth if we are not forgiving. “According to case histories,” says a New York doctor, “seventy percent of my patients show some resentment in their lives. Ill will and grudges help to make those people sick. Forgiveness will do more toward getting them well than any medication.” Leslie D. Weatherhead echoes this same truth when he says, “The forgiveness of God, in my opinion, is the most therapeutic idea in the world.” (Psychology, Religion and Healing, 1952) 1

One of the most troublesome aspects of forgiveness is the retaining of sins. However, I don’t think that it is up to us to retain sins against anyone. Rather, I believe that people themselves choose to retain their sins. We are all sinners, to refuse to forgive someone their sins, is sheer hypocrisy, because there are always sins that we are guilty of committing every day. Rather, our message is to announce, to be messengers sent out by the risen Christ, to speak the words of forgiveness in his name. It is Christ and only Christ who forgives sins; we are called, commissioned and sent out to proclaim this wonderful message of forgiveness. I think Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of verse twenty-three in our gospel passage is quite helpful for us here: “If you forgive someone’s sin, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” It is true, as Peterson emphasises, that once our sins are forgiven they are gone for good. It is also true that the question remains what are we going to do with sins if we do not forgive them? Let me tell you a story of someone who chose to retain their sins.

In Love and War is based on the World War I experiences of author Ernest Hemingway. The eighteen-year-old Hemingway (played by Christ O’Donnell) is a Red Cross volunteer in Italy just before the end of the war. While stationed there, he meets, falls in love with, and proposes to Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky (played by Sandra Bullock). But Agnes, unbeknownst to Hemingway, accepts a marriage proposal from an Italian doctor after Hemingway returns to America. When Hemingway finds out, he is brokenhearted. Agnes later cancels the wedding, realizing she really loves Hemingway.

Agnes travels to Hemingway’s lakeside cottage to declare her love for him. As they stand on the veranda, Hemingway, bitter over Agnes’s previous rejection of him, turns his back on her. He says nothing. Agnes slides up next to him and declares, “I’ll love you as long as I live.” But Hemingway does not reciprocate. Instead, he walks into the cottage, bangs his hand on the table in frustration, and covers his eyes in anguish. Agnes sadly walks away.

Agnes narrates the film’s conclusion: “I never saw Ernie again after Walloon Lake. I often wonder what might have happened if he had taken me in his arms. But I guess his pride meant he wasn’t able to forgive me. Some say he lived with the pain of it all his life. The hurt boy became the angry man—a brilliant, tough adventurer who was the most famous writer of his generation. And the kid who had been, eager, idealistic, and tender, lived on only in my heart.”

Ernest Hemingway married four times and took his life in 1961. 2

Today the resurrected Christ reminds us that the Greatest News of all is that our sins are forgiven, wiped out, gone for good. In our worship services that message is communicated clearly as we begin with the confession and forgiveness and as we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day in order that you and I, and all of humankind might receive and live under the power of his forgiveness of our sins. That is what we celebrate today, this season, and every season, through his ministry of Word and Sacrament. Your sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God! Amen! Hallelujah!


1 Citation from Dennis Kastens, “Power to Forgive,” at <>.

2 Craig Brian Larson & Lori Quicke, More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 148-149.