An age ago or perhaps even more than two, in the faraway city of Saskatoon, gleaming so brightly as it seemed on the Prairies, I sat in an audience transfixed by the speaker, James Mahoney, then bishop of the Diocese of Saskatoon.
Memory tells me that he spoke on the "three things that last" from 1 Corinthians 13.13, the justly famous faith, hope and love. He spoke for 35 minutes with insight, good sense and humour, without a glance at a note.
As an untried young man then, that feat alone would have earned him the award of a laurel crown could I have granted it. But he did more than that: he had spoken all those minutes inspired by the mere 15 words, "Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Though it took nothing from my admiration for what he had done, by and by I came to realize that not only could the words energize a speaker for 35 minutes, but they have enough substance to inspire considerable books.
In just such a way and in the briefest manner, today's Gospel recounts wakening events which invite much comment. Late in the day of his resurrection, Jesus, still bearing the marks of the crucifixion, appears to his disciples, now jubilant as they realize what they see before them.
It tells too of the absent Thomas' challenge to Jesus' resurrection and his reconciliation. Jesus forgives Thomas of his failing, an act bearing much on one of the points of this Gospel.
Between these two events, I mean the accounts of Jesus' appearance to the joy-filled disciples and his gentle reproof of Thomas, John's Gospel tells of a commissioning of his disciples: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Bishop Mahoney would have found inspiration enough in them for another 35-minute presentation.
If this empowerment of people happened in our day, we moderns would say, "What preparation did the disciples have for these deepest responsibilities? They needed a course of some sort." That seems evident when we recall their origins, some of which we know: fishermen, a revolutionary and a tax collector.
There would seem little in such experience that would fit them for this weighty charge. John's narrative tells us how Jesus met their need: "He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" As before, we moderns have the right word, "That ought to do it!"
I wager that the disciples discussed the meaning of this empowerment amongst themselves. Astonished by its implications, one - perhaps Peter, speaking for the others - asked a question of Jesus. "Lord! Does this mean that we could, er, ah, actually deny a person forgiveness of a sin?"
I make another bet: Jesus replied, "Yes! It means that right enough." Then driving home his teachings on forgiveness he added, "But would you do that?"
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)