Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

John 20:21-23

Where is that in Protestantism? Where is that even referenced or explained in the Protestant faiths? To understand this scripture better, let’s consider its context. This event occurs after Mary Magdalene encounters a man outside of the empty tomb of our Lord on the third day following His suffering and death. This man, whom she mistook for a gardener, turns out to be Christ and once she realizes this she cries out “Rabbo’ni!” which is Hebrew for “my teacher”. And being her Teacher, sure enough the first words out of our risen Lord’s mouth in this gospel account are words of teaching. “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go tell MY BRETHREN and say to them, I am ascending to my Father, and YOUR Father, to my God and YOUR God.”

There is a paradigm shift here in Jesus’ relationship with His Apostles, one that explains the ultimate reality of the power of His resurrection and the Church’s authority to forgive sins. Not only did the incarnation of Christ allow man to share in God’s friendship (John 15:15-17), but His resurrection allows us to be born anew as sons of the Father and brothers of the Son thereby becoming participants in the life of the Trinity. What is the life of the Trinity? It is the life of love (1 John 4:7-8), and therefore reconciliation—the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s return to the verse in question. Within the aforementioned context of becoming sons of God the Father and brethren of God the Son, our Lord appears to His apostles and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Note that Christ is appearing to the 12 here before the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost. There is a more specified gift of authority being given to the Apostles here then there will be in the more general or universal (or Catholic) gift to the entire Church at the Pentecost event. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Why did the Father send His Son into the world? In brief, to reconcile a fallen humanity to Himself. What power did the Son have in order to do so? The authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-12). And with that, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Again, I have to ask, where is that in Protestantism? The reality is, it’s not. It does exist, however, in……drumroll please……Catholicism. Throughout history, the gift of the Son’s reconciling authority has been preserved in the Catholic Church through ordination of her clergy—the successors of the apostles. And that authority, that gift of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins by virtue of Christ’s authority on earth to do so, and by virtue of His Sonship and ours, has not diminished in its capacity or power. It is the same power. The power of God’s only begotten Son: our Master, our Rabbi, and our Brother.

Well that’s it for the first two parts of this series. In the next section we will discuss participation in the life of Christ via baptism, sharing in His sufferings, and through Holy Communion. So stay tuned.