The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 20:19-31] should be familiar to many; in the three-year series and in the one-year series, it is ALWAYS the text for the second Sunday of Easter. You cannot get away from this text.
For a while, a couple of these verses also appeared within The Small Catechism. In the section on Confession, in the 1986 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (notice how Luther’s name somehow moved to the primary position), there were the following three questions and answers:
What is the Office of the Keys?*
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?*
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ [John 20:22-23]
What do you believe according to these words?*
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Note that each of these three questions has an asterisk. In that edition, the following sentence is also given: ‘* This question may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflects his teaching and was included in editions of the catechism during his lifetime.’
To borrow a question: What does this mean? These questions could be included, and they could be left out. This is not about Luther; this is about teaching, and that is more important.
If these three questions would be included, that would be okay. The five-hundredth-anniversary booklet of this catechism, entitled A Simple Explanation of Christianity, leaves these three questions in, but it leaves out the footnote. Leaving the footnote out helps to bring a greater focus on the included text. The year 2017 was an anniversary of the START of the Reformation. There is much more that could be said. There is much more that WILL be said as the 500th anniversaries of various Reformation events continue.
If these three questions would be left out, that would also be okay. This section would, in the end, focus on Confession, and that is not a bad thing. Obviously more emphasis should rightly, then, be given to the Absolution. Another good thing is the decreased emphasis on the pastor; the Lord’s words are the important thing.
You can see this lack of emphasis also in the fifth article of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the article on ‘The Ministry’. Here is the translation given in the ‘Reader’s Edition’:
‘So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake (Second Edition, 2005, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri).’
Where is the pastor? That is the point! All the way through the scriptures, it is the Word of the Lord that is the important thing (see Acts 28:31).