Second Sunday of Easter
Second Sunday of Easter (A)
May 1, 2011
Text: John 20:19-31
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Fear! On the evening of Easter, even after the wondrous (and downright confusing) news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the disciples are locked away behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19; ESV). You would be afraid, too, if you were in their situation. After all, the disciples saw just what the Sanhedrin was capable of: the mock trial; delivery of an innocent Man, THE innocent Man, to the Roman governor for execution; the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ. With Pilate’s permission and full cooperation, they had placed a guard at the tomb of Jesus, to make sure no one got out! But now the body is gone. Christ is risen! But you can’t expect the Sanhedrin to go along with that story. They quickly concoct another explanation for the missing body to fit their agenda. “(T)hey gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep”’… And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matt. 28:12-13, 15). As far as the disciples are concerned, and especially now that Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave, the Sanhedrin may be after THEM now, to persecute them, arrest them, crucify them!
Suddenly, Jesus appears to them, in their midst, in His body. He comes out of nowhere, or perhaps better, He comes out of everywhere, for in His risen and glorified body, Jesus fills all things (Eph. 4:10). Jesus appears in their midst, even though the doors are locked. In His risen and glorified body, no door can keep Him out any more than a large stone and armed guards can keep Him in the grave. Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples’ fear and He speaks: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). And then He shows them His hands and His side. He shows them His wounds. Because the peace of the Lord flows from His wounds, from the mortal wounds of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. What is this peace? It is peace of God that surpasses all understanding, that guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7). This is the peace of which Jesus speaks earlier in the Gospel of John when He says to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27). This is the peace that proceeds from the Father and the Son as the Spirit is breathed into those spiritually dead, bringing them to life and faith in Christ. This is the peace of Holy Absolution, of sins forgiven, as Jesus institutes the office of the Holy Ministry for this very purpose, beginning with His apostles, when He says: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (20:23). The Lord has given pastors to His Church for the purpose of forgiving and retaining sins, and everything a pastor does is about the forgiveness of sins: preaching, teaching, sacraments, visiting the sick, even withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. It is all about the forgiveness of sins. Holy Absolution, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, it all flows from the wounds of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
He comes right into the midst of fear, to cast it out. That is what absolution does. It distributes Jesus’ peace in the midst of fear, to kill fear. Because all fear ultimately comes from sin. You can pretend you are unafraid, but the reality is that you have fears as terrible as the disciples who are locked away. I have mine, too. It scares me to death, the terrible things that could happen to my family, my wife and my daughters, as a result of evil people who like to do evil things. It scares me, what could happen to any one of us as a result of terrorism. It scares me to know that the next tornado to come through Dorr may be bigger and do more damage and even take lives, as the tornados have done this past week in the South, and that you and I may be in its destructive path. It scares me every time I fill my gas tank and cringe at how much money I’m spending, because what if I’m unable to provide for my family, what if I can’t feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads, protect them from harm and danger, and give them a good life? Every single one of the fears I just mentioned, beloved, is a sin against the 1st Commandment. Because God is God, and I am not. And my fear betrays the fact that I don’t trust God to be God. I think I can do better. The truth is, I cannot ultimately protect and provide for my family. That is God’s job, and insofar as He has chosen to use me as an instrument in His protecting and providing, that is a gift of His grace. But He is finally responsible for my family’s and my own safety and welfare. I cannot control tornados. That’s God’s job. I cannot control terrorists. God must deal with them. I cannot control the economy. God must provide. And perhaps right now the best way He can provide for us is by chastening us with economic recession and depression. To suggest otherwise is to sin against the 1st Commandment. You have your fears, too, and your fears are sins against the 1st Commandment, and the other Commandments as well. You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. What is needed, then, as the antidote to fear is Jesus’ peace, His absolution. And that is why it is so crucial that He come here, right into our midst, and announce His peace. Which is exactly what He does for us in the Divine Service.
He’s here! Right in our midst, speaking His peace, showing forth His wounds, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, bodily present! He’s here, bestowing His peace because He knows that we are a fearful people. He knows that we are a doubting people. Like Thomas, we doubt. Fear breeds doubt. Unbelief is really the better word. It’s not just that Thomas doubts, it’s that he refuses to believe. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the evening of Easter. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Only the peace of Jesus Christ flowing from His wounds can deliver Thomas from his unbelief. And so Jesus appears to the disciples again, eight days later, right in their midst, once again in spite of locked doors, out of nowhere, or better, out of everywhere, and speaks His peace: “Peace be with you” (v. 26). It is an absolution for fear and unbelief. “Go ahead, Thomas. You want to poke around in my wounds? Please do. These wounds are the cure for all that has wounded you. From these wounds flows your peace.” “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27)! And so from the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and His Spirit, flow Thomas’ faith and confession: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). From the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and by His Spirit, the disciples are no longer fearful and unbelieving. They can even say to the Sanhedrin they had so feared before, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and so suffer beatings and persecution for preaching the crucified and risen Christ (v. 40). They rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ Name (v. 41). And so it is with you. From the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and by His Spirit, flow your peace, the forgiveness of your sins, boldness and confidence in place of fear, faith in place of doubt and unbelief. That is why it is very important that you recognize that Jesus is not here this morning only in some figurative sense. From the actual bodily wounds of Christ, who is bodily risen from the dead, and actually, bodily, present here with you now to really speak to you and to really feed you with His true body and blood in your mouths, comes real peace. If Jesus is only here figuratively, then you only have a figurative peace. If Jesus is only here spiritually, then He can’t really help you with the very real fears and doubts and hurts you struggle with. He can’t really help you with your sins.
Thanks be to God, He’s really here, breathing His Spirit through His Word, forgiving your sins through His called and ordained servant of the Word who speaks in His stead and by His command, placing His true body and blood in your mouths to strengthen and nourish you, to dwell in you, and that you may dwell in Him. In Holy Communion you touch His wounded body as surely as Thomas beheld the wounds and believed. Thomas saw the wounds of the risen Christ, the apostles saw the wounds of the risen Christ, and so they wrote and preached the Christ who was wounded for our transgressions, but raised for our justification. St. John has written these things down for this very purpose, that we may know this blessed reality, and so believe. “(T)hese 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” (v. 31). Peace be with you. No more need to fear. Your peace, your forgiveness, your life flow to you in abundance from Jesus’ wounds. And you confess it. You confess Him, your Lord and your God. On the basis of His peace, you confess Him to the world. You confess Him now to one another. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.