Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Dear Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, step with me for a moment through time into that Upper Room of many years ago:
There we were, huddled together in mute misery, spooked to the marrow of our very bones. Mary had come with some wild account of seeing Jesus in the flesh, alive, just that morning. Religious authorities must be out and about looking for us, but that is nothing compared to Jesus, back from the dead! What if he found us? Surely we are shamed for life for deserting him in his darkest hour! Him, the one we called Lord, Teacher, Friend!
Suddenly, the room begins to lighten; there, over by the center of the table, a glowing golden light begins to pulse in tune to our frantic beating hearts. A figure appears in the golden misty light…it is Jesus! In terror we stare, fascinated as this phantom burns brighter and brighter and … and solidifies … into … is this the REAL Jesus in the flesh, or is it his ghost?!? Wait, he speaks… like a deep, spiritual gong, he speaks: “Peace be with you;” his voice stills our fear, and his face radiates not stern anger at our shortcomings or failures, desertions or doubting hearts, but irrefutable, irrepressible, all-forgiving…love.
Stepping back out of the ancient past and into our present time, let us reflect on what that kind of message implies for us today. Jesus appeared to them alive, with his unmistakably scarred body,
“… proclaiming—or invoking—shalom… [peace; not once but twice he speaks to them “peace be with you”] a repetition that begins to suggest an eschatological dimension of fulfillment… [He then] commissions the gathered disciples to continue the work he has begun…. Finally, [in what is clearly]
a symbolic reenactment of the priestly creation myth in Genesis, Jesus breathes ([Greek] emphysao, in its one use in the Christian Testament) on the disciples and gives them the Spirit ([Greek] pneuma, also translatable as “breath” or “wind”) in order that members of the community may have the ability to forgive each other… (emphasis added).
[Interestingly,] this is the one reference to forgiveness in the Gospel of John, and coming here near the end of the Gospel and following the resurrection, it takes on even greater magnitude … a community cannot continue together in love without being able to forgive each other, and love (as Paul concludes in the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians) is the most important gift of the Spirit. The forgiveness or retention of sins is thus an action taken within the community and for the benefit of the community, not in order that individuals may render judgment on outsiders….”
“Wisely, John reminds us that if forgiveness is something we choose to retain, or [as it says] in Greek “to hold,” we will be eaten up inside by corrosive bitterness. [It has been observed that] ‘In John 20 … Jesus gave humanity serious power. If we forgive, then forgiveness is released. If we don’t, pain and anger fester inside. Forgiveness is a serious business.’
Commentators suggest that verse 23 is more appropriately interpreted as the risen Christ’s urging his disciples foremost to teach and model shalom, ushering in a breathtaking new vision of community built upon mutual forgiveness.”
Once each of us is set free in mutual forgiveness, then as vessels built to receive God’s indwelling, we are enabled to be filled with God’s outpouring of love. Once we begin to experience this filling up, we are empowered in turn to empty ourselves for the sake of others, loving them much more completely, and knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that in our self-emptying, God will continually refill us in love. I am convinced this is one of the greatest mysteries of the Trinity – a three-way self-emptying of mutual love; and as children adopted by God, made in the image of God, we are designed to reflect this love also.
There is a reason we put the confessional unit – that is, the prayer of confession, assurance of pardon, and passing of the peace – at the beginning of our services, which consequently is long before we get to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The front-end of our fellowship in worship is the ideal opportunity to “exercise the spiritual practice of forgiveness. …In many ways, the confessional moment of liturgy seems to contain the entirety of the gospel message in just a couple of minutes of clock time.”
Once we have unburdened ourselves to God and radically opened up ourselves to the vulnerable stance of mutual forgiveness, might we then approach the Table of Grace, receiving in truth the mercy and grace, the honor and love of God? Even if we do not think we deserve it, God extends to us this living bread, this cup of joy that is freedom in Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ into ourselves, we also open ourselves to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Christ imparts.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:4-7; emphasis added)
Do forgiveness and Communion go together? Most certainly; put another way, table fellowship is linked hand in hand to relationships built around loving forgiveness.
You may be wondering at this point how does that apply to daily life outside of the rhythm of the liturgical year and Worship on the Lord’s Day each week? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been guilty of sitting at the dinner table in tense silence shoveling in my food so I could quickly be excused to go off somewhere and simmer in anger and indignation over one thing or another. After all, even pastors are still human!
Even as there is a reason we are urged to forgive one another before approaching the Communion Table, so, too, we should aim to approach our common daily table in the same way. In that, we more genuinely offer ourselves, our prayers, our all – that we in turn might be empowered to forgive others. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
What prophetic word for the community has God given to you? In what ways do you struggle with conflicts between your way of life and the prophetic word God would have you proclaim to others? How are the acts of God manifest in your life and witness?
Household Prayer: Morning
Spirit of God, source of life, refresh my spirit, reshape my desire, and re-create my heart, that I may show forth your enduring glory; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Spirit of God, you sustained me during the work of day; sustain me as I rest this night. Let my evening meditations be pleasing to you, that I may rise in the morning to rejoice in your goodness. Awake or asleep, I will sing your praise while I have being; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Inspired by Suzanne Woolston Bossert’s essay in Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Garrett, Greg. Feasting on the Word…
 Bossert, Suzanne W. Feasting…