Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012
Text: John 20:19-31
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead brings the peace of sins forgiven into lives that are anything but peaceful. You are simultaneously saint and sinner, simul iustus et peccator, as the theological phrase goes in Latin. That is to say, in Christ, who died for your sins, and who has been raised from the dead to give you new life, all your sins are forgiven and God declares you perfectly righteous with the righteousness of His Son. But at the same time, in your fallen flesh, you continue to sin. You continue to rebel against God and His commandments. You continue to live as if God did not matter and you mattered most. Your Lord’s Name you have not honored as you should. Your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let God’s love have its way with you, and so your love for others has failed. There are those you have hurt, and those whom you’ve failed to help. Your thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin. And this troubles you deeply. Sin prevents peace, because it separates you from God. Sin prevents you from being reconciled to God. In fact, sin makes it impossible for you to come to God, because it renders you blind, dead, and an enemy of God. And that is why the Word of the risen Jesus is so important for you this morning: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV). It is an Absolution, a declaration that your sins are forgiven. It is an enlightening Word, imparting the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual light to your blind eyes. It is an enlivening Word, bringing you to faith in Jesus Christ and giving you new life in His resurrection. It is a reconciling Word, performing what it pronounces, that you now have peace with God through Jesus Christ His Son.
The Apostles had no peace that Easter evening. They had only fear. The doors were locked where they were for fear of the Jews, fear for the future, fear of persecution and death. They did not understand the crucifixion of their Lord. They did not understand their Lord’s resurrection. There were the reports of the women. There was the report of Peter and John. What did it all mean? It was confusing. It was frightening. Human reason is incapable of comprehending the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Only those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit in the Word of Jesus Christ can comprehend it. And even then, there is the struggle between faith and doubt that we all experience in this fallen flesh. The Apostles cannot comprehend it there, locked away for fear. They cannot come to the risen Lord. So He comes to them. He comes to them with His Word of Absolution that is the end of fear: “Peace be with you.” And then, as a direct result of that proclamation of peace, He institutes the Office of the Holy Ministry and Holy Absolution: “Jesus said to them again, ‘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’” (vv. 21-23).
The forgiveness of sins is the business of the Office of the Holy Ministry. In other words, Jesus instituted the pastoral office to bring you peace. And your pastor is to bring that peace right to the place where fear does its worst to you: Your conscience. Your conscience accuses you. And rightly so. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Your conscience, thus having accused you, binds you with the chains of fear, because the wages of sin is death and eternal condemnation. But the forgiveness of sins, administered to you in the Gospel and Sacraments, cleanses your conscience before God, and drives out all fear. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). For in the Gospel of the risen Lord Jesus you have eternal life and salvation. Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry for no other reason than to distribute the forgiveness of sins in Gospel and Sacraments. Everything a pastor does as pastor: preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing, visiting, studying, counseling, meetings, Higher Things youth conferences with the youth group, congregational potlucks, and even the retaining of the sins of the unrepentant, it all has as its ultimate goal the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. That’s the reason Jesus gave the Office. That’s the reason Jesus calls sinful men to that Office through you, His people, that the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments can go on in this place, where the Holy Spirit is active in these means of grace to connect us, and to keep us connected to Jesus, who has reconciled us to the Father by His blood and death. The forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, that’s the business of the Holy Ministry.
And we have the promise that Jesus Himself is present, really and substantially, in these means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. When the Holy Scriptures are read, when the pastor preaches, when your sins are absolved, that’s really Jesus speaking. It’s His actual Word, spoken specifically to you. When there is a Baptism, it is Jesus doing the Baptism, calling you by name and placing God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon you. When you come to the Sacrament of the Altar, it is Jesus Christ Himself who is your Host, thus we call it the Lord’s Supper. And of course, He is the holy food you consume, for the bread is His true body and the wine is His true blood, which you receive in your mouth for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith in Jesus. And then you hear the words: “Depart in peace.” Because Jesus has come to you with His peace. “Peace be with you,” He says to you, and you know that you are reconciled to God because all your sins are forgiven.
Thomas was a man with no peace in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. He was not present with the others that first Easter when Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors. Thomas refused to believe the rumors about the resurrection. He even refused to believe the word of his fellow apostles. His human reason was incapable to comprehending the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Sin had blinded him. He was an unbeliever. “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” (John 20:25). Thomas could not come to his risen Lord. So Jesus came to Him. A week later, the Sunday after Easter, what we’re observing today on the Church calendar, Jesus once again appeared in their midst where they were locked away for fear, and once again, Jesus spoke the peace of His Absolution: “Peace be with you.” And then He offered Thomas His wounds. Go ahead, Thomas. Poke them. They are real wounds. Suffered for you. And yet here I am, risen from the dead. “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27). And at the Word and wounds of Jesus, he who was once an unbeliever, “Doubting Thomas” as we call him, believes and confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).
We are often hard on Thomas. But the truth is, his story is our story. You and I are by nature incapable of believing in the resurrection. We’re trapped in sin. We’re trapped in fear. We cannot see Jesus with our physical eyes. Nor can we make sense of His death and resurrection by our own reason or strength. We cannot come on our own power to our risen Lord. So He comes to us. He comes to us in His means of grace and calls us to faith by His Spirit. We hear His voice in His holy Word. These things “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). We behold His wounds as His body is given into our mouths and His blood poured out for us from the chalice in the Supper. In this way, by God given faith, we see and hear Him. And Jesus speaks the blessing upon us: “Peace be with you.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 28). Blessed are you, beloved. You have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ. Because He says so. And the proof is the risen Lord Jesus who comes to you today to distribute His peace to you in His Supper. It is the end of fear. As Jesus’ body and blood are placed in your mouth, you simply confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” And you rest in peace. For “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Cf. "Individual Confession and Absolution" in Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 292.