To speak about Absolution on this day may seem a bit ironic since we are following the Order of Matins that contains no Confession and Absolution.
Well, I am not really going to preach on Confession and Absolution. But let me point out that it is no sin to have a service that does not contain public Confession and Absolution. Not only did Doctor Martin Luther not have that in any of his public services, but also the thing he referred to as Confession in the Small and Large Catechism was not what we have in our public service. There is no necessity to having it, even for a Communion Service. Although it is a nice practice to have public Absolution in the Service, we have no command from God in this matter, so we cannot make it absolutely necessary.
Part of this text is often passed over: “Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
These words appear in our Rites of Ordination and Installation of a Pastor. The passage falls under a section called “The Institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry.” The words in our Gospel are describing Christ Jesus establishing the pastoral ministry by commissioning His disciples.
This commissioning consists of four parts. First, the peace. Second, the sending. Third, the reception of the Holy Spirit. Fourth, the forgiving of sins. Today we are mostly skipping the fourth part to go straight to the other three.
So first off, the peace. What greater peace could there be than on Easter morning, proclaimed by the risen Christ? For death is conquered in the person of our Savior. Sin is fully atoned for, and satan beaten and bound. All that should cause us sorrow, fear, and anguish has been overcome by the Lord who stands in the midst of His disciples.
So He is not merely wishing them peace. He is proclaiming the reality of peace. This is a peace that permeates all our lives, not merely emotions. And although we may at times not feel the peace of Christ, it is with us nonetheless. Peace is the reality bestowed by His Word.
The disciples received this peace, and they were to proclaim it to others. From ancient times, the very first words that a pastor would speak to his people after his ordination were, “Peace be with you.” This summarizes the heart of the Gospel ministry. The minister preaches peace in the death of Christ, and feeds us the meal of peace, and blesses us with peace.
The sermon often ends with the words, “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is not only a fervent wish or blessing, but it summarizes what sermons do. The peace that Christ earned by His passion is proclaimed to you.
Before the Lord’s Supper, the pastor, usually holding up the Body and Blood of Christ, says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Here the same Christ is present with the bread and wine as was present with the disciples on Easter. The same Easter greeting is shared, as the minister speaks the words of Christ.
He comes among us no less miraculously than on Easter. For which is harder? To appear in the midst of the disciples even though the doors are locked? Or is it harder to come in and with the bread and wine on this altar? Either is impossible to human reason. Yet Christ the Lord who has conquered death is not limited. He comes among us miraculously, to give us His peace.
This is the purpose and goal of the Holy Ministry, because Christ commissions His ministers to speak in His place. That is the meaning of the second part of the commissioning in the Gospel Reading: the sending.
“As the Father sent Me, so I send you.” What was the sending of Christ by the Father like? Christ said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” The Son is the exact image of the Father’s glory. Wherever He went, Christ spoke the words of the Father, and He did the works of His Father. “I and the Father are one,” He said.
The Father also sent His Son with a special commission. The purpose of the incarnation was that the Son would lay down His life for the sins of mankind, and then rise again. Christ followed this commission perfectly. By shedding His Blood, has satisfied the wrath of God against sin. The full price is paid for all men.
For this purpose, Christ was sent by the Father. When Christ sends His apostles, they of course do not have to atone for sin. They also are not the exact image of the Father’s glory. Only the eternal Son is that.
But the apostles are sent to speak the Word faithfully, as Christ was sent to faithfully speak the Word of the Father. The apostles are sent to do the works of Christ, that is, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christ commissioned them to Baptize and teach all nations, and He commissioned them to preach the Gospel to every creature, and to forgive sins.
When these things are done, the authority of the apostle is the same as the One who sent him. The sins are forgiven in the stead and by the command of Christ, even though it is merely a human sinner who physically speaks. The Supper is the Lord’s, not Peter’s or John’s. The Baptism is in the Name of the Triune God, not the name of a sinful man.
Although the apostles do not atone for sin, they were sent to freely bestow the benefits of the atonement that Christ earned for all men. They are authorized to do this by the commission of Christ.
The apostles in the particular sense of the twelve chosen by Christ have long since died. Yet others have been sent in their place with the same commission and the same authority. These men are sent now by the proper call and ordination of the Church. The power of the ministry is the same, since the same sending of Christ applies to all faithful ministers of His Word.
Along with the authority comes the Holy Spirit, who is the third part of the commissioning in the Holy Gospel.
The Spirit is bestowed by Christ upon His apostles. Yet we may ask, “Is not the Holy Ghost given to all believers? Did the apostles not already have the Spirit, since they believed?”
The answer is that the Spirit is sent in different ways. One way is to give saving faith at the conversion of sinners. Yet the Spirit is also given to ministers in a particular way. He is with them and accompanies their preaching and teaching with His power to work faith in others.
The twelve apostles had this divine Comforter in a special way. On Pentecost, they received Him in even greater measure, with tongues of flame and with the speaking of strange languages. Later, they were able to do miracles in the Name of Jesus by the Spirit’s presence and power.
After the apostles, ministers seldom have this special measure of the Spirit to do miracles. Yet all have Him for the most important aspect of the ministry. The Spirit is always present with the Gospel.
Preachers need to remember this. They cannot actually feel the Holy Ghost. They cannot actually see faith being created. But we ministers have the promise that the Spirit is with our ministry. Faith may not spring up as much or in the times we desire. Yet we have the promise that this Gospel ministry will not be fruitless. The Holy Spirit will indeed create faith when and where He desires. So ministers should not despair if they feel their ministry is not bearing enough fruit.
It is also good for you to remember it. The promise that the Spirit is with this ministry is for your reassurance as well.
Not only does Christ give this promise in our Scripture today, but also the Church from ancient times has put a reminder in our liturgy. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” the congregation responds, “And with your spirit.”
Modern revisions have replaced these words with, “And also with you.” That is a tepid response that misses the point. The minister in particular has the Spirit with him. This Spirit not only accompanies the Word of God that the man teaches, but also upholds the man in weakness and frailty, in hard times and in temptations.
So it is good that the congregation say, “And with your spirit,” that is, “The Holy Spirit be with you. You are not alone with your burdens. God the Spirit is with you to strengthen and preserve, and to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.”
There is no minister who does not need to hear these words, and no congregation that does not need to be reminded.
So here is the office of the ministry – a sending by Christ of men to proclaim peace, empowered by the Holy Ghost.
Do you need this ministry? Many people feel that they can receive everything they need at home, by themselves. Others feel that there is really no such thing as an office of the ministry, that is was just a hierarchical power grab by the Roman church.
Do you need it?
That depends whether you need the peace of Christ. Do you recognize that of yourself you are a sinner? Sinners create the opposite of peace. We destroy relationships, or twist them into something never intended by God. We create strife and pain. By our sins, we even create death, since that is the wages of sin.
Most of all, our sinfulness destroyed the right relationship we were to have with God. Our sinful flesh is an enemy of God that would fight Him to the last. By our powers, we cannot be reconciled to God, since every effort only makes things worse.
But God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ His Son. By the death of Christ, He paid the penalty that our enmity deserved. By His precious Blood, He has covered up our sins in His sight. By His resurrection, He showed that you have peace now with God.
You need this peace. Even though you have that peace now by faith, you need to continue hearing the proclamation of this peace. You should eat and drink the Meal of Peace on this Altar often. The reconciling Word of forgiveness should never be far from your ears. Of ourselves, we cannot hold onto this peace. We would lose it by our lack of faith. Therefore Christ has established the ministry to keep on proclaiming peace to you, to strengthen faith and defend you in this peace that He has given you.
You need the Holy Spirit to be active in your life. If you push away the Comforter, then how will you keep yourself in faith? Your own efforts apart from the Spirit result only in unbelief. Thomas is our example of where we go when we do not hear the Spirit-filled Word of Christ. Unbelief can find even an apostle of the Lord. So what chance would we have?
But Christ has made sure that the Spirit is never far from you. The preaching of His Word is in house, where you can hear it often.
How often? Well, how much do you love this Gospel of your dear Lord? How much do you want the Spirit to be active in your life? If you want Him much, and want to drink deeply from His springs of living water, and feel your great need because of your sins, then you will desire this Gospel as often as possible.
This is why the Lord has sent me to you, as He has sent many ministers over the centuries. He did not send me for my sake. He sent me for you. He has His sheep in mind when He tells His ministers, “Go, feed my lambs. Preach My Gospel. Forgive sins.” It is all for you, because Christ loves you and desires that you be saved for all eternity.
Yet if you think that your sins are not serious, you will not desire forgiveness much. If you think that you can meet God on your own terms, then you will not desire to hear the minister Christ has sent. If you think you can make your own relationship with God by yourself, then you will not think that you need the Gospel ministry.
Instead of thinking this way, pay attention to what Christ has established for you. He knows your need best. He desires only your good. Listen to His voice as it comes through an unworthy sinner’s mouth, and He will speak eternal peace to you.
In His Name, the Risen Lord of life, who will never die again. Amen.
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