Easter 2 2022 Quasimodo Geniti

John 20:19-31

April 24, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! 

The last week a federal judge struck down the mandate requiring masks for public transport.  As a result, some airlines have stopped requiring masks on their flights.  For some, this seems to be a welcome relief. For others, anxiety and worry, even fear over the spread of disease, over breathing in what someone else might have breathed out.  

One of the gravest sins that could be committed over the last two years was to breathe on a person.  Some said you have to stay 6 feet away so their breath doesn’t get to you, so you don’t catch what someone else might have.  Like it or not, agree with it or not, this has actually changed the way that people interact with one another. It has changed the way businesses function, the way schools conduct learning, the way even that churches and God’s people worship.

But in a sense, we have always been changed by another breathing on us. We read in Genesis 2 that the creation of man took place in this way: that God took some dirt from the ground, that He blew into his nose the breath of life, that is the Spirit of life, and the man became a living creature, an enfleshed soul.  That God gave Adam what God Himself had, the contagion of God’s spirit and life.  With this, we learn that God created man not just for this life, but for eternal life. For by the this breathing into Adam, God the Creator made Adam in His own image.

And yet, this image of God was lost in man through the fall into sin, a novel infection was breathed in by Adam and Eve as the serpent slithered close and breathed out the lie, the twisting of God’s Word. And the infection was born, sin, which now spread like a genetic disease from Adam onward, a disease that leads to only one end – death.  

So we hear in our Old Testament reading this morning of Pastor Ezekiel, looking out at the whole house of Israel, diseased, lifeless, a valley of dry bones.  “Can these bones live?”  The answer really is obvious – dead means dead – but Pastor Ezekiel answers wisely, “O Lord GOD, You know.”  And He does know. And so He commands Pastor Ezekiel to speak the Word of God over these bones, and as bone comes together, sinews and skin enfleshing that in which there was no life, there is no breath. And so God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, to get up close and personal and breathe on these slain, and the breath came into them and they lived and stood of their feet, and exceedingly great army.

God breathed life into Adam, bringing life where there was previously formlessness and a void.  Ezekiel prophesied breathe into dead bones, enfleshed once more, to bring life to what was once dead.  He who was dead and raised on the third day breathed upon His disciples that they might be infected with what He has – His Spirit and His life that overcomes death. This isn’t just any breathe either, this is the breath of life that spoke creation into being, that brought life to Adam, that spread across a valley of dry bones to raise them up, that bespeaks the righteousness of God. “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 withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.’”

Jesus gives His disciples the grace, the command and the authority to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.  With these words we believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (SC “Office of the Keys”).

And now He sends His Church out to announce this good news, and even more so, to deliver it through the means that He has established. So you ask, “Who can forgive sins, but God alone.”  “It is true that there is no human power or ability or merit or worthiness to forgive any sins, even if someone were as holy as all the apostles and all the angels in heaven… However, here we must have the true distinction… between what people do from their own initiative and on their own unworthiness and that which Christ commands us to do in His name and which He produces through His power… But if the absolution is to be true and powerful, then it must come from this command of Christ, so that it says: ‘I absolve you from your sins not in my name or in some saint’s name, or for the sake of some human merit, but in the name of Christ and by the authority of His command, who has commanded me to tell you that your sins are forgiven.  So it is not I but He Himself (through my mouth) who forgives your sins, and you are obliged to accept that and believe it firmly, not as the word of man, but as if you had heard it from the Lord Christ’s own mouth.’” (LW 77, pp. 135-136)

This breath of Jesus drives the disciples back into the world. Eventually, the they ventured out of the locked upper room. But they were forever changed by breathing in what Jesus breathed out. They went out into the world and spread something far more deadly than a disease, far more deadly than the threat of the Jews or the Romans. They spread the Good News of the death of death itself.  Breathed upon by Christ to receive the Spirit, Jesus commands and enables and sends them out to proclaim and to forgive the sins of any who repent, and to withhold forgiveness from any who do not repent.  This is not done in an arbitrary way, nor based on their opinions or feelings that day. They were to exercise this Office of the Keys based upon Christ’s work, upon His command, upon repentance over sin, and faith in the risen Jesus.   

It’s still not polite to go around breathing into people’s faces.  So don’t do that. But breathe out the word of God, breathe out His forgiveness, breathe out His peace to calm fears of this world. Husband and wife, do this daily, Parents, model this to your children. You who are infected with sin, come to your Pastor for Confession. This is why God has sent you a pastor in the first place, to breathe out to you the Gospel. Jesus’ wounds are the only remedy; His passion, death, and resurrection are your only defense against evil, against sin, against the power of the devil, against death itself. And He sends His sends you to breathe out onto others the same Word of God, to deliver the same Spirit by speaking of the only medicine, the only cure, to the disease of sin, the only solution to death – the forgiveness of sins, the peace of God that comes with the risen Jesus, His Spirit and the eternal life that only Jesus brings.