Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +
They're still afraid. The disciples, gathered there in the upper room behind locked doors, are still afraid. They were afraid on Friday, and they are afraid now. They are afraid, even though Peter and John saw the empty tomb; they are afraid even though Mary Magdalene has told them that she has seen and talked to Jesus risen from the dead.
Now, a moment of honesty. We are still afraid, aren't we? We've just celebrated Easter, the high point of the Church year, and yet, I'm willing to wager that there was still fear preying upon you this past week. I'd be willing to bet that there were anxieties and worries that popped up. The problems of life don't go away simply because Easter comes (well, it does a little bit for Pastors simply because I had a lot fewer sermons to write for this week). But by in large the things that were a problem and troubling two weeks ago, most of them are probably still troubling and threatening now. So then, what good was Easter?
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.” Listen to what Jesus says. Peace be with you. Jesus doesn't suddenly take away all the problems and troubles that faced the disciples – He doesn't say, “Well, don't worry, I just called down fire from heaven and everyone whom you were scared of is now ash.” Nope. He says, “Peace be with you.” I'm not going to smite and get rid of all the people causing you problems – instead, I'm going to give you peace. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. No, I'm not going to get rid of all the problems in the world – see, look here, I myself dealt with problems and dangers – and they were serious and big problems and dangers – and they did their worst to Me, but behold, I am risen and I say “peace be with you.”
Likewise, my friends, being a Christian doesn't mean that all your problems will go away. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and “Bingo” - everything is better. “Bing” - no more illness. “Bing” - your boss is no longer a jerk. “Bing” - the kids behave, um, I mean mom and dad are reasonable. “Bing” - you get more stuff! It doesn't work that way. That's how we try to make things work, thoough, isn't it? Those are the sorts of promises that get bandy about – if you only went to Church then everything would be “better” - if you pray hard the cancer will go away, if you just follow the 7 simple rules then your family will be better, or my favorite, if you give more to God in the offering, He'll give you more in your wallet. And too often, especially in the last 50 years, that's what preachers have been peddling. And it doesn't work. And people get mad and disillusioned and say, “What good is church? I went, and mom still died. I went, and my marriage still went down the tubes. I went, and my job still stunk and people still didn't like me.”
We've got to listen to Jesus. We've got to listen to what Jesus actually says, what He actually promises rather than just throwing out our own pipe dreams and pretending its the Word. Jesus doesn't say, “look, everything is hunky dory now.” He says, “Peace.” Peace is not a message that things are suddenly better in your life, that there will be less chaos or problems. Peace doesn't mean that the troubles go away, or that they are any less big or real. You are going to face incredibly large and real problems in your life, and some are not going to be fixed. Jesus doesn't make them disappear, but He gives you peace.
As a Christian, you have a radically different point of view concerning the world and your life therein. Typically, in the world we are left with either doubt or false bravado. People see something coming, and often there is fear and uncertainty that cripples and gnaws away at them. Or people see something coming, and the pressure is to put up a false front, just keep up a positive mental attitude and everything will be fine. People either admit that they have no control and panic, or they pretend that they have control and think that if they just smile enough through gritted teeth it will work. As a Christian, Christ Jesus gives you a third way, a true way. In this world, you will have suffering, but in Christ you have peace – and that peace means that you will get through suffering. Not that you won't suffer, you will. In fact, you are going to die even – Jesus Himself died – if He doesn't get to skip out on death, you aren't either. You don't have to fret, it will come. But, though you die, you will rise. Jesus did, and so will you. You don't have to pretend that pain and suffering isn't here in the world, you don't have to go to extremes in foolhardy hopes of avoiding it. No, the third way, the third day way is this – you go through it, but through it with Christ and at peace.
Because the reality we fight against as sinful human beings is the simple fact that there is no avoiding pain and suffering and death. We can't talk or work our way out of it. But in Christ, you have peace, even in the face of this suffering, because you go through it with Christ and you come out on the other side with Him and you live. This is what John says in his 1st Epistle. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. You want to know what overcoming the world looks like? It looks like the world doing it's worst you, getting all Good Friday on you, but then rising on Easter and standing there and smiling. And that is how your life is going to go, my baptized friends. You will live in this life, and while you strive after showing love to your neighbor and easing their pain, the world and Satan and sin will whip up suffering. I don't know what yours will look like, but I know it will be there. And eventually, you'll die. And then, you will rise, because Jesus has died and risen and He has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism, He has given you His Spirit by His Word, He has given you His own Body and Blood, and so you will rise. The peace that He has, that's yours now. And that's what He declares, and that's what we listen to. Not pipe dreams of worldly wish fulfillment, but the truth that Jesus died and rose and that this is for you.
And this is why the same Jesus who declared peace to the disciples then says to them, “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's Church is to be a forgiveness place. Why? Because in the midst of the fears and doubts and troubles of this life, especially as they loom large over you, you need to hear and receive forgiveness again and again. Because the temptation will come, where you will see suffering and think, “Ut-oh, God must be pretty ticked off at me.” And then, you will be tempted to run away from God – that's the only thing we can do when we are fearful that God is mad at us. If you've really upset some 6 foot 6 270 pound big dude who wants to punch you in the face, you don't just saunter on up to him, you avoid him. How much more, when you think that you've ticked off God do you try to avoid God – and the problem is this. The only way you get through this life is with God. So you need to remember that you are good with God. Actually, much more importantly, you need to remember that God is good with you. You need to see Christ and Him Crucified – because it is there on the Cross where all your sin hangs. Does Satan accuse you with your failures – they are on Christ Jesus, so you don't need to run away. Does the world threaten you with suffering – that's not going to scare Jesus away from you. You are honestly, totally, utterly and completely forgiven in Christ. You have peace.
And that's the point. And that's what we need. And that's what the Church alone can offer to the people in this world, to your friends and families and neighbors, even to your enemies. Christ's peace. Because He died for them all. And He knows the suffering that they too are going to face, whether they like it or not. And He died to give them peace, and He would be with them and see them through it safely as well. And we are the ones who know this profound truth, this Third Day reality of the death and resurrection of Christ. Nothing you see in this life, no trouble you face and no trouble that your neighbor faces is bigger than Christ Jesus' death and resurrection. And He says, “Peace be with you,” and we hear and believe and have life in His name. Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +