(I find it fitting that the 500th post here is a sermon)
Easter 2 – April 11th, 2010 – John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
So how many of you had the perfect week this past week? A week where nothing went wrong, where there was absolutely nothing that didn’t go according to plan? Me neither. That is just part and parcel of living in this sinful, fallen world. Stuff happens, and stuff continues to happen, and stuff will always continue to happen. St. John addresses this problem in our Gospel lesson this morning. The text begins, and it is Easter Night – the evening after the disciples learn about the resurrection of the Lord, and where are they? “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. . .” The disciples are holed up together, barricaded up. And why? Fear. Their week was rough, and it might get rougher still, and so there they huddle behind locked doors, scared of what the future will bring.
Does that not often describe our lives and how we live them? Lives where we slide back into fears and worries about what might be – fears and worries where we are just sure that the worst will happen. . . and not worried so that we might prepare for it, but rather just that sense of dread. This is what the old evil foe wants to stir up in you – fear and dread. Fear and dread paralyze you. Hitler knew that – that was why he started sending V-2 rockets at England. . . it created a paralyzing fear. So who do you think is more cunning, Satan or Hitler? Who do you think crafts a more deadly and difficult attack, the Evil One or merely a wicked man? Satan is going to try his hardest to stir up fear and worry in you, to make it be where you become frozen, like a deer in the headlights simply so he can plow right through you. This is a danger we face in our lives.
Jesus, though, doesn’t just let Satan have his way. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” So Christ shows up – locked doors don’t bother Him anymore, for He is resurrected and fully demonstrates His divine power. And Jesus comes to the disciples, and He says something that is wondrous, something we hear over and over again. Peace be with you. There it is – peace – calmness, joy, security, peace – that is the cure, that is the antidote, that is the way to fight Satan’s fear. To see Christ’s peace.
So then, what is peace? The word gets tossed around all the time. Sadly for us, peace often just means a cease-fire – means that our fights and wars have just become so taxing that we are just tired of them and want to stop fighting – not that there are any less problems, not that any disagreements are fixed – just that we pause and stop fighting. That way we don’t have to worry about it any more. But that’s not peace – not the way scripture speaks of peace. Peace in scripture isn’t a military term, it doesn’t refer to the mere cessation of war – peace in Scripture means that there is unity, that there is sharing, that folks have been joined together in love and harmony and that the reasons for fighting, the reasons for fear have passed away and been removed.
Christ enters that upper room, and He says, “Peace be with you.” He’s not just wishing them good luck, He’s not just sending happy thoughts their ways. No, Christ Jesus is describing reality. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” He showed them His hands that had the nails driven through them, He showed them His side which had been pierced by the spear. He showed them the signs of His death. He showed them the signs of His death while living, while breathing, while standing before them a living, resurrected Man. That, dear friends, is what peace is. There is Christ Jesus, and the world has done its worst to Him, has thrown every pain and sorrow at Him that it could – and yet, there He stands. He stands victorious, He stands glorious. The first hymn we sang, Walther’s “He’s Risen, He’s Risen” – in German it’s “Erstanden, Erstanden”. He’s standing – right there, look, it’s Christ Jesus standing in front of us, not dead but alive. And really, ultimately, what is left to fear? Even with all that He faced and saw, there He is, standing alive. That’s where we end up. No matter what we face in this life, no matter what the world throws at us, we know how the story ends – it ends with us standing at our Lord’s side, risen because He is risen, living because He is living, in heaven for all eternity because He shall dwell in heaven for all eternity. Satan and death could not conquer Him, nor shall they conquer us – they shall be brushed aside, swatted way. Christ has brought peace – He’s removed the cause of fear, He’s defeated death – there is nothing left to fear.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we folks living in the sinful world cease to have problems. This doesn’t mean that Satan simply rolls over – he has lost, but he is determined to take as many of us with him as he can. And Christ knows the struggles we face, and so we hear this. “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’” Christ Jesus knows that Satan will still throw around fear – and the first fear that He will attack with is sin, is guilt. We know that sin has consequences. When we are doing it, we will delude ourselves into thinking that it has no consequences, but eventually the weight of our sin and our folly comes crashing down upon us. We see things go horribly wrong in our lives, not because of those people out there, but because we ourselves have messed things up – sometimes beyond our ability to repair. And that is what Satan loves to cackle in our ear – oh, look how you are going to get it now! And that fear comes rushing in, followed by dread and despair. To cut this off, Christ Jesus has given to His Church people whose specific job, whose specific duty is to proclaim forgiveness to those who are terrified of their sin, to those who repent of their sin. That’s ultimately what a pastor is – I’m in the same line of work as Christ put the disciples to – to speak forgiveness to those who repent – and to speak bluntly about sin to those who delight and continue on in their sin. Every time you hear me speak in this place – you should hear forgiveness proclaimed – every sermon, every service – Christ has died for your sin – that should be the constant refrain. That way Satan pulls no wool over our eyes – we don’t run off after sin now, and we don’t wallow in despair when we see our sinfulness – because Christ’s Word of forgiveness is true. Yes, sin has temporal consequences – yes, sin messes up things in your life now – but because of Christ, your sin is forgiven, your story still ends well in heaven, live and be bold in that. Turn away from sin, beat it down with repentance, and turn towards the forgiveness proclaimed in Christ’s Name.
The other fear that stirs up now is doubt. “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.’” Thomas here is struggling with doubt – and why? He wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus showed up, and so, eh, I just won’t buy it. You do realize, dear friends, that doubt is the way of the world – that for 2000 years the world has railed against Christianity, that the brashest of the so-called thinkers have scoffed and mocked Christianity – indeed, they do their best to foster doubt, to shake and rattle you. And what happens when, for whatever reason, you decide to neglect Church? You have this going on, there was that thing – for whatever reason – you miss Church. What are you doing? You are exposing yourself to a world of doubt. If you are left to your own on anything, doubt will always creep in – and that is what Thomas is seeing right there.
“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My Hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’” The cure to doubt is to be gathered together with the people of God in Church, in worship. You realize that what happened in this text is what happens here in Church all the time. We are gathered together, and what happens? Christ is present – He is present in His Word proclaimed, and even more wondrously and miraculously – He is present in His Supper. I wish we had it more often, and we probably should. And why? Because the things of worship – hearing the Word, receiving Christ’s own Body and Blood for forgiveness and the strengthening of faith are the right and proper cures for doubt, the right and appropriate ways to fight doubt. We need to remember what we learned in confirmation class – we don’t come to faith by our own reason or strength, but that the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel – called us by God’s Word preached, by God’s Word poured over our head in the waters of Baptism, and that in the Church the same Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us with His gifts – His gifts of the Word and His gifts of the Supper. It’s here where it happens – where we are pulled out of the everyday and humdrum of our lives and gathered up together in God’s House, in God’s presence, so that we are sustained until we are eternally in God’s presence in heaven.
You do realize that this is what happens here. This isn’t about us – this isn’t just us coming together and speaking some words, singing a song or two, listening to some crackpot pastor ramble on for a few minutes. No – this place is about God being active, God bringing us together in His Word – these Words that we speak, they are God’s Word, the very Words of eternal life. These songs that we sing – they aren’t meant to be entertainment – but they are the truth of God’s love that are designed to build us up – when we sing these hymns we proclaim God’s Word to each other – as I knelt for prayer before this sermon, you sang God’s Word of life into my ears so I was prepared to preach it into your ears. We are gathered by Christ to be in His Word, to receive His Supper, to grow in the faith – so that believing in Him we would have life in His Name. Christ Jesus has promised to be with us whenever we gather around His Word and Sacraments – even if there are only two or three of us, and to make us share in His life. He has risen from the dead, and He desires that you share in this life as well. Delight in His Word, rejoice in the gifts He gives you in His house – hear Him preached, touch Him in His Supper, and delight in His forgiveness and life. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia - Amen