Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 22nd and 23rd, 2017
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
The bunnies are gone and the chocolates are all eaten. The new dresses, the nice suits, for the most part they’ve gone back into the closet. The eggs, the family dinners are done, the pictures have been posted to the internet – and as far as the world is concerned, Easter is done – now, when’s Memorial Day and the start of summer? Not so in the Church. We’ve only just begun Easter – the altar will be wearing its Easter white 5 more weeks, and in this time we will be studying the Gospel of John, hearing from our Lord and pondering what His resurrection means for us, how it shapes our lives. And now that the hoopla is past, consider for a moment that forgotten theme of all the Easter stories – fear.
You see, the Gospels don’t deal with Easter the way Hallmark does. In the Scriptures, it’s not all sunshine and daisies and spring. Every Gospel has in its account of the resurrection fear. Matthew – you’ve got the guards fearing, you’ve got the women afraid. In Mark, everyone’s afraid. Same with Luke – except in Luke you hear about the bewildered disciples on the road to Emmaus, the two who figure it’s best to high tail it out of Jerusalem – that’s how fearful they are. And then, there’s John – and last week we heard of Mary Magdalene’s utter fear and confusion. And what do we hear this week? “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.” Fear. Disciples, have you heard? Jesus has risen! That’s nice, now, let’s lock the doors. Ain’t no sunshine and daisies there. And here’s the great kicker on this – Jesus shows up, talks with them – and then what do we hear? “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” All of them except Thomas have seen Jesus risen from the dead, and yet, what’s going on? Still locked doors. Still hiding. Still fear.
Too many people in the Church do a grave disservice to the Gospel, to the preaching of Christ, when they pretend that if you only are a Christian then life is so much easier and everything is laughter and bouncy-bouncy happiness and money and wealth and fabulous prizes. It’s not, not yet at least. Until Christ comes again, we are in the fallen world. And you know what life in the fallen world is? Quite often, lousy. Terrifying. Disappointing. Aching. Sad. This world is doing its best to turn us all into dry bones, to suck the life out of us. And sometimes it does a pretty good job of it, doesn’t it? And the temptation for us sinful folk, especially us in America, with all our wealth and luxuries and technology and cosmetics and the like is to try to pretend that we can make the world less… fallenish. Less harsh. We can think of the Church like some sort of spiritual gated community – if we come here, if we do the right stuff, then all those bad things will be kept far, far away and God will give us Money, wealth, and prosperity.
When you are tempted to think about the Church this way, consider that our Gospel text tells us of the first two Sunday worship services in the History of the New Testament Church. What is Church but where God’s disciples have been gathered together – have been made into a congregation – and Christ is present there and His Word proclaimed? It’s what we see. And yet, what’s the context? Not that if we make it to the upper Room Jesus will make all of our wildest dreams come true. Not that if we make it there we will get a raise at work and our families won’t fight and our kids will do better in school. The context for the disciples was fear. No blinders about life. There are evil people out there that want to do us harm. Our livelihoods are messed up – in the next chapter when Peter tries to start up the old fishing business it doesn’t start off so well. And let us be honest, who among us doesn’t have fears, plenty of fears? Every one of us has them – and there’s no magic bullet to make those fears go away – not money, not booze, not even showing up to Church with the biggest smile.
So, why even be here? What then is the point, pastor? If things are so dour and always will be, why not just sleep in? Listen to Christ Jesus. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Peace. Yes, disciples, I know there are people out there who want to do you harm – look at My hands, look at My side, boy howdy do I know. Yet I say, peace be with you. As scary, as terrifying, as real and as persistent as those problems in the world are, peace be with you. See, I have risen – the world did its worst, and in the end, I live. So shall you. Peace be with you. You see, dear friends, Jesus doesn’t show up and tell the disciples that their lives will now be caviar and champagne. Far from it – He had told them that they would end up taking up their crosses and following Him – that being a disciple would mean not hiding from the world, not pretending it isn’t lousy, but rather going out into the world – As My Father sent Me, so I am sending you – that the disciples would be in the world, working there, in the middle of that pain and sorrow. All that pain and fear and hurt and suffering is real – Jesus doesn’t pretend otherwise. Instead He proclaims another truth, a greater truth, a truth which supersedes the world. Peace be with you. You are forgiven, disciples – and forgiveness reigns supreme. You tell folks that they are forgiven, and guess what, they are. There is peace – the rebellion of man against God – it’s over, I, Christ Jesus have finished it, and now there is peace. Peace be with you. Even as the world rages around you – Peace. There is the forgiveness of sins, so look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Peace be with you.
Likewise, dear friends, the Church isn’t going to suddenly make the world turn up roses. Oh, we do help each other out, maybe we can give each other good advice, a helping hand – and that’s all good. But the world is still going to be the world, and there will still be problems. When our Lord said, “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” He wasn’t whistling Dixie. But what you will get here is Peace – and not some hippie “peace out, man” sort of thing. God’s Peace – that is, the forgiveness of sins. In the Scriptures, peace is a forgiveness word – and whenever you come to this place, you will get the forgiveness of sins. That’s what a Church is – a forgiveness place, and I don’t care what the sign on the door says, if they aren’t proclaiming Peace be with you, it's not really a church, because that’s what Christ’s Church is about. You are forgiven. Yes, the world is scary – but you are forgiven. Yes, your sins are vile, the guilt of them is heavy – but Christ has borne that guilt and you are forgiven. Be at peace. Go in peace. Even Rest in Peace. You realize that term – rest in peace – it isn’t talking about how nicely the grass is mown in the cemetery – it means you are forgiven. It means even though you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live. Forgiveness has been won – this is the great truth – greater than all the junk in the world. This is what the Apostles are to go out and proclaim, this is what the Church has proclaimed ever since, this is what we proclaim even to this day. Because Christ Jesus has died and risen, you are forgiven.
But, what of life out there? It’s nice that I’m forgiven and all – but life out there has its fears, and I have to face them. Did you notice one other thing, and this really is wondrous. The disciples are hiding in fear – fear has basically paralyzed them. It doesn’t stop Jesus. He’s risen – He is God and Man, raised, glorified – like a locked door is going to do anything to stop Him. Fear is there, the doors are locked, but still Christ Jesus comes there. Yes, Disciples, you have fear. But I am with you – peace be with you. The world, it’s troubles, they don’t drive Christ from you – indeed, He is with you not just for this brief time on Sunday morning, but every moment. You are baptized – He has made you His temple. Matthew’s Gospel ends on this very truth – So often we will say Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, now get to work people. Bah. First off, the great commission isn’t “work hard” – it’s about forgiveness – about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But over and above that, how does Matthew actually end? Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peace be with you. Why? Because Christ is with you – because nothing can separate you from Christ Jesus, neither heights no r depths or powers nor anything. Not even your suffering – He suffered too. There is nothing you can face in this world that will drive Christ away – He is risen, and He always says Peace. He is always eager and quick to forgive you your sin, for that is why He came in the first place! He is your Lord and your God – and you do have life in His name. He has washed you clean of your sin, poured His Holy Spirit upon you, gives Himself to you and is with you always. Yes, the world is a scary place, yes, my sin is great – but Christ Jesus is Risen, and He says Peace be with you, and that trumps all. We need never pretend otherwise. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia. Amen