And with that Jesus breathed on his disciples 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.” (Joh 20:22-23 NIV)
How is the trumpet to sound a note without air and how should the guitar string twang without the plucking finger? How can the holy office of the ministry (heilige Amt) and the message of peace come together if the Holy Spirit does not join them? This ministry, which is to give the Spirit has to have the Spirit first before it can share it.
Our Lord gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples with the breath of his mouth with the aim of spreading out his message of peace. These words: “Receive the Holy Spirit” are not to be separated from the following: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Remission of sins is granting peace, just as retention of sins means ongoing strife and confirming the conflict. His message of peace is to reach the world as a power of God, which overcomes the world and saves it.
The Lord foresaw that millions and multimillions would not receive this message of peace. Therefore he installed the office of the ministry – this service of pastoral care – through which he would in a very specific and personal way grant peace individually and grant divine grace to the single sorry soul. The power of the keys forgiving sins follows up the faith that has been initiated by the divine word of God in sermons, catechesis and evangelism. The Lord also knew long ago that many, many would only offer him lip service and worship him half-heartedly, while remaining in their favorite sins and continuing on the broad way into destruction giving others a bad example. Therefore he gave his disciples the power and authority to retain the sins of those unrepentant sinners – and instructed them even to do this faithfully. Wherever you have remission of sins, there the retention of sins is just the other side of the coin. Its part and parcel of this office of the keys. The first is not appreciated really, if the second is not practiced. Did the Lord want to bring peace to some, he would have to keep it from others.
Holy Lord and God! By your grace grant that we do not have to suffer the retention of our sins. Grant us the profound forgiveness of all our sins and prepare our bodies as your living temples so that our joy may abound and be fulfilled. Amen.
This is a rather free translation of Wilhelm Löhe’s devotion for Saturday after the first Sunday after Easter: Quasimodogeniti. It is found on Pg. 172 in Lob sei Dir ewig, o Jesu! (Eternal Praise to you o Jesus!) edited by A. Schuster and published in the Freimund Verlag, Neuendettelsau 1949.