You know, post-Easter is a time of different seasons, right? We have changes, things that depart and also arrivals, so it’s great to see, for example, the college and university students, welcome back from a year of hard study and looking forward to a great summer with all of you! What a wonderful time it is. Human relationships and friendships, they’re central to our lives as human beings and they make our life richer, fuller and more joyful. And in a way, they are what make life rich full and joyful. Friendships are often formed through shared experiences and frequent interaction. In school, you go through common experiences together. I think back on my law school experience way back in the day and it was a very intense experience. There was incredible pressure because we know that our marks are going to determine our future options. And this pressure and workload was something that only fellow law students could understand. We had our wonderful families and friends outside of school whom we really appreciated, but no one else could really understand the intensity of it. And because we spent so much time studying together, playing around together, fretting and complaining and releasing our stress. We formed very close bonds. I know that’s the way for many different contexts, a lot of workplaces are like that. You spend every day together with your colleagues, you face common struggles and challenges.
You share the same complaints about a bad boss or manager, and there are people who annoy you to no end. It’s always entertaining at dinner listening, asking Deb, “you know how so was your day at work?” It’s like, “oh yeah, well this person and that did this and they’re so annoying.” Right? But these are the kinds of things that bring you closer together and there are shared experiences in communities too. You know, I’ve seen how our Hi-C and some of who are now college students have become close to the sharing of your lives. Week after week, you come and share life. Retreats we pour out our hearts and burdens to one another. We pray for one another, right? So these shared intimate moments that we repeat regularly forge strong bonds of friendship. Jesus and his disciples shared a deep and intimate bond of friendship. They went through so much together. He spent every day, there was great excitement.
Initially, Jesus called the disciples and they witnessed the first sign when Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding. They saw Jesus heal a blind man restore a paralyzed man’s walk. They were there when he preached to multitudes of people. They even saw Jesus raised the dead Lazarus back to life. But more than these great events, they also shared deep intimate moments. Jesus washed their feet, he taught them about life. He spoke at great lengths, about many things, and toward the end, he shared his troubled heart. So they were great friends. The closest of friends, Peter at one point even said that he would follow Jesus wherever he went and would lay down his life for him that’s the ultimate declaration of friendship.
But in the end, all of Jesus’s close friends abandoned him. When push came to shove, their fear for their own safety trumped all loyalty to him. So Jesus died all alone on the cross. His closest friends. They didn’t even get a chance to really say goodbye to him, they didn’t get a chance to hear any last words before he died and they didn’t get a chance to say how they felt about abandoning him in his greatest hour of need. So all that closeness they had built in the end didn’t amount to anything on the cross.
This has made me reflect on human relationships. It doesn’t matter how close you’ve become, human relationships can really be destroyed at any time. Human relationships are fragile. It’s like the warning on the box, you know, fragile treat with care because even one word or action can cause hurt and rupture in the relationship. Even a relationship that’s been built up for a long time. And then when nasty or unkind words or actions pile up over time, they become part of the memory and history of the relationship. This memory of past words and actions become seared in the mind and they shape the present state of the relationship and this relationship deteriorates when the hurts, pain and anger from past actions and words remain vivid in the present and outweigh any joy or happiness that come from it. And relationships ultimately end when there’s no hope for a change in the present state of the relationship. Sometimes that’s necessary, right? If the relationship is harmful or abusive or completely lacking in love, then sometimes ending that relationship might be the greater path to peace. But I suspect that many times ending a relationship does not bring peace. It does not bring joy. Sometimes ending a relationship takes something away from life.
And so there can be a real struggle. Right? On the one hand, past experiences have shown me that this relationship just brings about more pain and difficulty than any joy or happiness. But on the other hand, I feel that severing this relationship will only make life more empty. The past tells me that the future will be no different from the present. There’s no basis to believe that anything will be different. Is there any reason to believe otherwise? After Jesus died, the disciples believed that this was the end, the end of their relationship and the end of everything that Jesus had started in, that they had been doing together. They felt incredible sorrow that their dearest friend was gone. They felt lost without the leadership of their teacher. They felt incredible guilt for abandoning him and leaving him to die all alone. There was no basis to believe that anything would be different.
But what happened in today’s passage is that the present and future would not be chained to the past. The past actions of the disciples led to their present sorrow and guilt, but the resurrected Jesus took away their sorrow and guilt when he said, “peace be with you.” In other words, Jesus was forgetting the past and breaking the chains that the past had on the present. Because after expressing peace, this is what happened. He breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for breathed in this passage is the same one that was used in Genesis when God created human beings by breathing the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam. Breathing on the disciples was a moment of a new creation. He was creating them anew as new persons and He empowered them with the Holy Spirit. The first thing Jesus said part of this new life and the Holy Spirit was about forgiveness and I believe that forgiveness stands at the center of this new life. It stands at the center because our human relationships are what make life rich and abundant. God has given us the gift of relationships to make our lives worth living. Forgiveness means that the wrongs of the past do not determine the state of the future, the wrongs that I’ve done, the sins I’ve committed, the harm that I’ve inflicted, they do not determine my future, the wrongs inflicted on me, the hurts that I’ve received from others and the pain that I feel, they do not dictate my present and future.
My friends. I do not want to underestimate the power of the past. There’s a reason why we often say I can forgive, but I can’t forget. Memories of the past become seared in our minds and the closer we get to people, the greater is the possibility for hurt and pain. I mean, as we get closer to people, you become more exposed. Our weaknesses and flaws become more visible and apparent. Those flaws can cause hurt to those around us. Those flaws shape how others see us and flaws in others colour how we see them and that’s why intense relationships like family relations are often the most difficult. Cause our flaws are so visible and exposed and we know how to use that against each other. Intimate relationships are hard. And that’s why so many times we avoid it, like the disciples we stay behind the locked doors of our hearts because we don’t want to experience such pain and hardship. Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment during his long farewell speech to them. He said this, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you. You also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” What does it mean to love one another? Is it just about getting along on the surface, smiling to each other in the fellowship hall being nice and not having any conflict? Loving one another means becoming more intimate with the other person, but then as we said, that exposes our flaws and faults and things that begin to hurt one another. So I realize, to truly love one another then is to forgive one another.
When we are hurt or mistreated by others, we do not simply hold those wrongs in our hearts. We confront our feelings and we release them. We do not judge someone based on what we’ve seen of them in the past. I think perhaps the greatest harm we can do to someone is to make firm conclusions about that person based on what we’ve seen from them in the past. We think we know who they are and we keep them fixed to that. That is so debilitating and dis-empowering. There’s no room for change or growth that is a great sin that we commit. This is a sin against the Holy Spirit. We are in effect saying that God cannot breathe new life into that person and create something new and different. Forgiveness is about seeing that person through God’s eyes to see the possibility for change and new life in that person. Let us not be so quick to make conclusions about people. Let us always see a new possibility for that person just as there is a new possibility for me.
The resurrection is about the power of life. Not even death can conquer this power. God has given us the gift of human community and relationships to give us life. When our relationships are good, we experience the power in life that helps overcome whatever challenges may come our way, and that is why we pray for one another and support one another when we’re struggling. When our relationships are bad, we feel the dreaming of life. The resurrection is the power that creates a new life in our distorted and fragile relationships. And forgiveness is at the heart of this new relational life.
To be forgiven gives us power. To forgive gives life to others. It takes great power to forgive. The power to forgive comes through the resurrection, the belief that God can create something new. I believe that this world needs this meaning of the resurrection. I feel so much anger, resentment, and hatred in the world today. From these emotions, we inflict great hurt on one another. Just yesterday there was another shooting, yet again in a synagogue in San Diego. I pray for the families of the victims and the community going through this shock. Why do we commit such acts of violence? Why do we hurt each other so much? We need to break this cycle of hatred and resentment, revenge, retaliation, and vengeance will only further fuel hatred and resentment. That is what Jesus came to do to break this cycle with the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. We need the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal the wounds, this world, and only the power of the resurrection can bring about God’s will for this world that He loves. Let us be honest with ourselves and ask forgiveness for any wrongs we may have done to one another. Let us ask God for the power to forgive those who have hurt us and let us be people who love one another through forgiveness and reconciliation.