19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus appears to the disciples. He shows them his hands and sides.
The writer of the gospel, John, is making two points here. Firstly, the risen Christ is spirit. He appears to them in a locked room. Over the years I have read a few authors trying to rationalise this event. One of them even claimed that Jesus came in by an open window. 😀 Jesus didn’t need to do this because his body has become spirit. But Jesus is not a phantom or a ghost. This is not a manifestation of a non-physical entity. He shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and sides because the new body is still the old body. It is the old physical body transformed into spirit. St Paul calls this spiritualised physical body, the “Resurrection Body.” Christ has achieved the endpoint of human evolution in one earth incarnation.
Human evolution can only be completed if a divine spirit enters in to each human being to empower this transformation. We call this, the I AM. Christ comes to the disciples with this purpose. He breathes upon them. The ancient languages understood that spirit is in the breath. They are even the same word, pneuma, in Greek. When intention combines with breath and with words, then a spirit can be transmitted. Our English translation has “Receive the Holy Spirit,” but in the original Greek, Jesus actually says, “Receive a Holy Spirit.” The difference is profound. If we were to receive the one and only Holy Spirit, we would share in a group consciousness. Instead Christ confers the greatest possible gift, he bestows individuality upon us. Every human soul is unique. Every human being is sacred. Every human being contains within them something that is profoundly, individually holy.
The disciples are the first to receive the gift of individuality. Humanity as a whole will receive this at Pentecost. The gift that the disciples are given is the priesthood. This is the power to forgive, and to withhold forgiveness to other souls. The disciples, as apostles, will later transmit this gift themselves. The power to forgive or not to forgive is actually the power of choice. A soul has to choose to be forgiven. The soul can also choose not to be forgiven. This is the basic, most elementary level of choice. Choice is the expression of individuality.
There is so much more we could say about this magical scene. It represents an ending, but it also represents a beginning. Spirit never ends. It completes a cycle, and then it initiates a new cycle. We place ourselves at the commencement of this new cycle the moment we place our feet on the Path to Pentecost.
This dynamic image by the Sri Lankan artist Nalini Jayasuriya shows the breath of Christ flowing out and transforming the disciples. One of the wonderful aspects of this painting is the presence of women amongst the disciples. After all, it was the women who stayed with him to the bitter end, while the men hid.
The picture is called “The Great Commission”. With the outbreath of Christ comes purpose and direction. In Matthew's gospel, the disciples are commissioned to go out into the world and preach the good news. In St John’s gospel however, the disciples are commissioned as priests. They are to forgive sins.
We can all forgive sins - starting with our own! To forgive sins does not mean that the deed is cancelled or vanished. It means that we are now willing and able to accept the consequences of our own decisions.
On this day, let us spend some time looking at those who have hurt us in the past and releasing them from their actions. We should also look at who we have hurt in our lives. Forgiveness of self here, means that we have taken the next step on the Path to Pentecost.
This we could say of a priest of our spiritual order:
They must have the vision of the Christ implanted within self. Such a soul, cannot be disconnected from the Christ, no matter what. To him or her the Christ is everything, and the Christ impulse works already within that soul. This does not make him a better or more holier person, it makes him a Christ conscious person. That is, conscious of the living presence of the Christ within.
Rev Mario Schoenmaker, Ordination Address, 1983