Letting Go

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:22‭-‬23 NRSV

This is part of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples on the day of his resurrection. After meeting with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, he reunited with ten of his other disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit with the instruction to forgive sin. Jesus also says that along with the power to forgive, the Holy Spirit gives the power to not forgive. It sounds like a lot of power, and it is! To forgive, or not forgive: that’s the question.

In Greek, the word that means forgive also means release. In other words, forgiveness is connected to letting go. 

This time of year we can see an excellent example of the necessity and beauty of letting things go just by looking to the trees. Take a look at the nearest maple or oak tree: see how its leaves are turning red, yellow, and orange? They may already be falling from the branches to carpet the ground beneath them. It is beautiful and even necessary for trees to release their leaves when the season changes. 

If trees don’t let go of their leaves? Well, that’s not good. Several years ago, I had an eight-year-old maple tree in my front yard. One fall, for some reason, it just didn’t drop its leaves as the other trees did. Some of the leaves fell, but most stuck onto the branches. I was curious what would happen if it didn’t let go of the leaves. 

One day, I found out. There was a terrible storm in October that year, and the wind was so severe that the tree could not stand under the weight of its leaves. Instead, it split in half straight down the trunk, and the half of the tree most covered by leaves crashed down to the ground. If it’s beautiful to let go, it’s dangerous to hold on too long.

Nobody wins when we hold onto sin instead of forgiving it. When we forgive, we release that other person from their guilt and, equally important, we release ourselves from holding grudges, from seeing ourselves as victims, and from taking it upon ourselves to judge someone else’s worthiness. We’ve got to let it go, as Elsa says. We’ve got to forgive. We’ve got to release each other from our sin so we can move ahead without the weight of that guilt dragging us down.

The trees are showing us how beautiful it is to let things go. The Holy Spirit is showing us how beautiful it is when we let sinners go free with the simple words: “I forgive you.”

Holy Spirit, you give me the power to release or retain sin. Give me also the grace to forgive sin as I have been forgiven in Jesus Christ. Stop me from holding onto things that I need to let go. Amen.