2nd Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31 – April 15th, 2012
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
Pastors often refer to this Sunday as “Low Sunday”. Some will piously say that it is called this because it is a bit of a lower, less festive celebration than Easter Sunday last week, some will say it reflects the fact that most Churches around the country will have their lowest, non-weather impacted attendance of the year today. Which is a shame, because I do not know if there is a set of readings that I enjoy more than today’s readings. We had that wonderful Introit – as Newborn babes crave pure spiritual milk – fantastic description of life of faith. The newborn cannot go fix food for himself, but when that food is brought to him, there is joy, and he lives. And then we had our Old Testament – Dry Bones – can these bones live? Of course they can – when the Word of God is spoken to them and when the Word of God speaks life into them. Again, another image of our faith. We were dead in our sins and trespasses, but then God spoke His Word of life and Spirit to us, and we were given new life in Him. And how does this Word give us life? As John teaches in his Epistle, the Spirit is truth, and it testifies of Christ Jesus, and we believe. We receive Water and Spirit in Baptism, and we believe. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper, and we believe. We hear the Word and Spirit proclaimed in Christ’s Word, and we believe. Fantastic stuff. You add to this the fact that when Jesus dies, He gives up His Spirit, and from His pierced side flow water and blood – you get some great stuff.
And then there is our Gospel lesson. Again, another fantastic text, almost two texts in one, again teaching us about Christ Jesus and His forgiveness and what faith is. Let’s just dive in. “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 and said to them, “Peace be with you.”” So, it’s that Sunday night, the night after the resurrection, and where are the disciples? They are holed up, in hiding. Sure, Peter and John have seen the empty tomb, sure Mary Magdalene has said that she has seen the Lord, but the disciples aren’t sure what is going on. So they sit there, huddled in a locked room. And what happens? Jesus comes to them – doesn’t matter that the door is locked. He is risen – if the tomb and grave can’t hold His resurrected, glorified body, no door lock is going to stop Him – and Christ Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.”
Peace. In English we don’t get how central, how wonderful a word peace is. Peace isn’t just the ending of hostilities, it isn’t just calmness – in Hebrew, in Aramaic, peace encorporates everything that is good and right and proper. In modern Hebrew, if you are asking someone how they are, you say “Ma Scholmka?” – literally “how is your peace”? Is everything settled and good and proper to where you can live and enjoy life – or is there terror and guilt and trouble and sorrow? How is your peace?
Christ Jesus enters the room, and he sees those disciples huddled in fear, those disciples who most certainly had no peace, but rather had doubt and fear and sorrow and guilt and shame over what had happened in the previous days, and He looks at them, and He says to them, “Peace be with you.” He comes into that room, and He speaks peace – and where there had been no peace, there is peace. Doubt is removed, fear is overcome, sorrow is lifted, guilt is forgiven, shame is covered – there stands Christ Jesus, and He says “peace be with you.” That’s a forgiveness thing, that’s the Word of the Lord coming to the broken and dried out people and making them live again. And John notes something interesting – “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” It is when they see that it is the Lord who was crucified, Christ Jesus in His own Body – not just a ghost or something like that, then they rejoice. Why? Jesus has every right to declare peace – because He has defeated and overcome death, overcome the wages of sin, overcome man’s rebellion against God which consigned man to the grave. He’s done away with all that, and He says peace.
That’s fantastic, that’s wonderful stuff. But then Jesus goes a step further. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”” And now the world as we know it is different. Look at what Jesus does – He declares His peace again, but then He adds this – as the Father has sent Him, so He is sending out these men. The Greek word there is “apostle” – the word Apostle means one who is sent. And Christ breathes His Spirit upon them and gives them instructions to go and forgive sins. And that’s what the Apostles do – they go, they preach Christ, they forgive sins – and this Church here stands because Christ sent those Apostles who preached and baptized and taught and forgave, and who ordained men who would preach and baptize and teach and forgive, on and on through the generations even to this day. This is why we say we believe in the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – we are part of the John 20 text, it flows down even to us today. Consider – how often this day will a man sent here to you by God look at you and say “peace” to you? It’s all part of the same stream, the same Church spread throughout the world that you and I are part of, called here and given life by the Spirit, and in this Christian Church the Spirit daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. This is who we are, this is what this place is to be – a place where the Peace of God is declared and proclaimed and given to sinners who need it – where the Word of God breathes life into the dead and dying so that they might live now in love to their neighbors and live forever in the life of the world to come. This is what God’s Church is about – Peace from the Risen Christ.
And then we have a transition in the text. One of the 12, Thomas, he wasn’t with them. And what happens? Thomas doesn’t buy it. I feel bad for Thomas – if I mentioned Thomas, how many of you just added a “doubting” in front of it. Here you are, an Apostle, and what do you get remembered as – Doubting Thomas. Kind of lousy – but note what he doubts. “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.”” He doesn’t disbelieve that they saw Jesus – oh, that could happen. But a risen Jesus, Jesus in His Own Body – that, that’s too much for Thomas. Fair enough. We should understand that – we all know people who refuse to believe that the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s Body and Blood – it’s just too big, too wondrous, too amazing. Same thing with Thomas here – the idea is just too shocking, he can’t wrap his head around it.
And then, we move ahead to the next Sunday, and Thomas is there with the Apostles this time, and Christ Jesus appears. And once again, the first thing Jesus does is pronounce peace, give out forgiveness. He doesn’t walk up and smack Thomas for being a lousy doubter – nope – first things first. Peace be with you. And then Christ goes to Thomas… and then He SMACKS him… well no, of course not, Jesus didn’t rise to smack foolish people around, which is good for us because we’d be worthy of plenty of smackage. No, Christ goes to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” See, Thomas, I am not just some disembodied spirit, I’m not just some vision of joy and happiness, I’m not all the stupid things that people 2000 years later will hear from so-called theologians hanging out on the History Channel – I am risen in My own Body, and I carry with Me the signs of My victory over death and the grave that I won for you.
And then Thomas makes the good confession, the confession of faith that stands out over and against every heresy and falsehood and lie the Church has seen and heard since then – “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”” Who is it who stands there, who is risen, who declares peace to Thomas? Christ Jesus, True God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and True Man, born of the Virgin Mary, who for us men and for our salvation was born, suffered, died, and rose. When we are speaking of Jesus, friends, we are speaking of God. And this is the buffer, the defense against falsehood and heresy – if you hear people talking about how Jesus can’t be God – toss it out – heresy. If you hear people talking about how Jesus can’t be doing something – toss it out – heresy. We don’t go telling God what He can and cannot do, especially when He has promised us in His Word that He would do something. Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, lives and gives peace – and this is everything in the Church.
And then, there is just one other little golden nugget in this text – John’s summation of the whole kit and kaboddle – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John’s not trying to write the complete biography of Jesus, He’s not trying to give you every single detail of His life – not the point. The point is this – that we hear that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, has lived and died for us, and that in Him we have life, we have life in His Name. This is what Christ sent John out to proclaim, this is what Christ’s Church has been proclaiming since then, this is what we have received. We are those who receive from God His Word, and we receive in that Word the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection, whether it’s that Word attached to Water in Baptism, whether it’s that Word attached to bread and wine giving us Christ’s True Body and Blood in the Supper, or whether it’s that Word of peace spoken by another one of the long line of preachers God has sent to His people. That is the purpose of this place, that is why we live, why we shall live for all eternity, why we know our peace with God is secure. Our Lord has done it all, and He brings it to us today. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +