Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Fifth Sunday after Easter (C)
April 25, 2013
Text: John 16:12-22

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20; ESV).  You can take Jesus’ Word for it.  Both parts of the promise.  He promises that you will have sorrow.  You will have sorrow because this is a fallen world, because you are a sinner, because you live in the midst of sinners who will sin against you, because the wages of sin is death and you are dying, and so is everyone else, including those you love.  You will have sorrow because you will have sickness and pain.  You will have sorrow because the world hates Jesus, and so the world hates Jesus’ disciples and the Word of Jesus you confess.  You will have sorrow.  You can bank on it.  But your sorrow will turn into joy.  You can bank on that, too.  Because Jesus has taken your sorrow into Himself.  He is the man of sorrows for you (Is. 53:3).  There, on the cross, He bears your sorrow to death, to be buried forever in His tomb.  And He is risen, victorious over your sorrow.  Your sin, your death, your condemnation, all of it came to an end when our Lord spoke from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Now we are left with an empty tomb and a living Lord Jesus and the new life He gives us in the means of grace.  Rejoice, dear Christian.  Sing unto the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things (Ps. 98:1).  Even now, in the midst of your sorrows, be glad and sing for joy.  For you can live now in the reality that your Lord Jesus Christ has finally made everything that is wrong right again, as it will be revealed on the Last Day, and you have eternal life in Him.
            Your sorrow will turn into joy.  Jesus originally speaks these words to His disciples before His crucifixion.  A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).  What does this mean?  The disciples don’t know.  They discuss among themselves what Jesus might mean.  Jesus knows they want to ask.  But they are afraid.  In this original context, Jesus is talking about the reality of what He’s about to go through.  He will be betrayed by one of His own disciples into the hands of the Jewish authorities and delivered to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.  The disciples will be scattered.  In their fear, they will flee.  He will be nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, for their sins, for their fear, for your sins, for your fear.  And they will have sorrow.  He will be buried, and for a little while, they will see Him no longer.  But then, on Sunday morning, and again and again for the next forty days, they will see Him, risen from the dead.  Their sorrow over His crucifixion will turn into joy.  Alleluia.
            But what is true for the disciples is also true for you and for me and for the whole Church of God.  A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  After those forty days in which Jesus was appearing to His disciples, proving that He is bodily risen from the dead, He ascended into heaven.  Ever since, He has been hidden from the physical eyes of believers.  As He went up, He was hidden by a cloud.  It is not that Jesus went away.  It is not that He’s somewhere up there and not here with His people.  Remember His promise?  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  Jesus is always with His believers.  He’s always with you, to the very end of the age.  But ever since He ascended into heaven, He’s been hidden from our eyes.  Present, but hidden.  And so we have sorrow.  We wish we could see Him.  Not just by faith, but by sight.  We wish we could see Him and touch Him and hear His voice and ask Him questions and receive clear answers.  We know that He will come again visibly, on the Last Day, to raise the dead and to judge all people and to give eternal life to us and to all believers in Christ.  That is what the angels said to the apostles after the Ascension: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 2:11).  He will return visibly, on a cloud.  Then we will behold Him with our own eyes.  But not now.  Now, for a little while, we have sorrow.
            Yet, Jesus does not leave us on our own in this sorrow.  He has sent us His Holy Spirit.  This is the Spirit He promises His disciples in our text, the Spirit who will lead them, lead us, into all truth.  This is the Spirit that comes upon the Church at Pentecost, which we will celebrate again in a few short weeks.  How does the Spirit guide the Church into all truth?  How does the Spirit operate?  How does He glorify Jesus and take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to the Church (John 16:13)?  Well, He doesn’t do it by zapping us, or by giving us a feeling in the pit of our stomach, or a burning in our heart, or voices in our head.  He does it in the Word, by the Prophets and Apostles, the Word of God recorded in Holy Scripture, preached in the Church, confessed by God’s people in your vocations.  He takes what belongs to Jesus, the Gospel, Holy Absolution, the proclamation of sins forgiven and eternal life with Christ, and He declares it in Word and Sacrament.  For in the Word of God, you see Jesus and hear His voice.  In the Sacramental Word you touch Him, His true body and blood, given and shed for you, placed in your mouth.  You speak to Him in prayer and petition, and He gives you answers in His holy Word.  The Lord Jesus is hidden in these means, delivered by the Spirit.  That’s how the Spirit does His work.  And as the Spirit does His work, what happens to your sorrow?  It turns into joy.  Not that you don’t still live in a fallen world, as a sinner among sinners who sin, with sickness and pain and all the causes of your sorrow.  But you know that this sorrow is temporary.  The joy, though… The joy that is the risen Lord Jesus, that joy is eternal.  What that means is that you can live with joy in the midst of sorrow… even profound sorrow, even the sorrow of death.  Really, only Christians can do this.  Because only Christians can sit with Job in sackcloth and ashes, having lost everything and everyone, without a friend in the world, and still confess: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).  This as Job, and as you, dear Christian, pour out your heart to God in weeping and lamentation.  Actually, only a Christian can truly mourn, because only a Christian can totally relinquish control, give it all into the hands of God, in faith that God will take that sorrow and turn it into joy.  How do you know?  Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Even as you weep, rejoice!
            Because here is what is coming.  We heard it in our second lesson (Rev. 21:1-7).  On the Last Day, when Jesus comes, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a resurrection heaven and earth.  The first heaven and the first earth will have passed away.  The old order of things is done.  Jesus Christ has made all things new.  And what marks that new heaven and that new earth is nothing but joy.  The new Jerusalem, the holy Church, you, beloved, come down out of heaven as a Bride adorned for her Husband, the Lord Jesus.  God Himself will dwell with you.  Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, with you.  You will see Him, touch Him, hear His voice, and ask Him questions and receive clear answers.  Not by faith, but by sight.  No longer hidden, but revealed.  You will be His people.  And your sorrow?  It is finished.  It will be turned to joy as God wipes away every tear from your eyes, and death is no more.  No more mourning or crying or pain.  It is done.  So, knowing that is the reality, what do you do, dear Christian, even in the midst of sorrow?  You sing.  At the Lamb’s High Feast, you sing, for here your Lord gives you the proof that all of this is true: His risen body and blood, Himself the Host and the Meal.  Easter triumph, Easter joy.  And here is the promise of the risen Lord Jesus to you: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one,” and nothing, not even death, not even the devil, not even hell… “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).  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.         

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
April 21, 2013
Text: Psalm 23; John 10:22-30

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            The risen Lord Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.  We are the sheep.  That tells us a lot about Him, and it tells us a lot about us.  The shepherd tends the sheep, and sheep assuredly need tending.  They are rather stupid animals.  They need a shepherd to keep them together, keep them safe from predators, away from noxious weeds, away from poisonous water.  We’ve perhaps sanitized this illustration of shepherd and sheep so that we see this as a picture of cute, cuddly, fluffy animals in the embrace of the kind and smiling bearded Savior.  Actually, in using this illustration, Jesus is telling us that without Him we’ll perish eternally.  We’ll eat stuff that is bad for us, drink poison, and wander right into the clutches of the lions, the wolves, and the bears, sin, death, and the devil.  It’s true, though, isn’t it?  You know this from experience.  We are sheep who love to wander.  The Prophet Isaiah makes this point: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him,” Jesus, “the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6; ESV).  St. Peter says the very same thing: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).  That’s us, isn’t it?  Each one turning to his own way… that’s the definition of sin, to be turned away from God and curved in on yourself, going your own way, determining your own path, judging for yourself what is good and what is evil.  That way only leads to death.  But there is good news in both of these verses.  The LORD has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.  The Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep.
            Jesus talks about this in our Holy Gospel this morning.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  What does this mean?  One thing sheep have going for them is that they know the voice of their shepherd.  You know the voice of your Shepherd, Jesus.  He who first called you to be His own in Holy Baptism continues to call you by His holy Word.  You hear His voice.  You hear Him in Absolution as He forgives your sins.  You hear Him in Scripture and preaching as He calls you to follow Him.  The more you hear Him, the better you know His voice.  That’s why it is so important to be in Church, to be attentive to the reading of Holy Scripture and the preaching of His Word, to be in Bible study and Sunday School, to read and meditate upon Scripture in your home and family life.  His Word, after all, is the green pasture we sing about in Psalm 23 (v. 2), in which the Lord Jesus makes you to lie down and find rest and refreshment and nourishment. You live by every Word that proceeds from His mouth.  His Word imparts His Spirit.  His Word gives you saving faith in Him and strengthens that faith as you live your baptismal life in this fallen world.  He leads me beside still waters” (Baptism).  He restores my soul.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (His righteousness, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and then sanctification, the Christian life that follows).  His Word crucifies your sinful flesh.  His Word raises you up, a new creation in Christ Jesus, to walk after Him in newness of life. 
            Incidentally, since this is true, you also know when to be suspicious of other voices, voices that are not the voice of the Good Shepherd.  In other words, you know that those other voices are the voices of false teachers, many of whom claim to be Christian; the voices of the unbelieving world, the voices of your sinful flesh which must be drowned and die, the voice of the devil himself and of his demons.  The plain truth is that if it isn’t the voice of your Good Shepherd, Jesus, it’s the voice of a predator or a robber.  There’s no middle ground here.  It’s dangerous to follow any voice that isn’t Jesus.  His is the only voice that leads to eternal salvation.  Every other voice leads to perdition.  And that’s important to know in a world that would have you believe all roads lead to the same destination, that every person’s truth is legitimate, that there is no such thing as objective truth, that your truth is only true for you and should not be applied to anyone else.  That voice, beloved, is demonic.  You know that.  But as is unfortunately the case with sheep, it’s easy to become confused.  Only one thing sheds light in the darkness and straightens out the confusion.  That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. 
            And here is what He does for you as He calls you: “I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  His Word is the Word of life.  Now death, which is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), no longer has any power over you.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4).  The Lord Jesus took your death into Himself.  He died on the cross, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins.  He crossed over the valley for you.  And He came out the other side alive.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  And that means He can bring you through valley and out the other side alive.  He will take you to heaven when you die.  And He will raise you up bodily on the Last Day, to live forever with Him.  Fear no evil.  There is no need to fear.  For Christ has conquered death, and He will never leave you or forsake you.  No one will snatch you out of His hand.  For you belong to Him, and to His Father and your Father in Baptism.  As He says, “My Father… is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them [the sheep… you!] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).  God is greater than the lions, the wolves, and the bears.  God is greater than your sin, your death, the devil and his minions.  No one and nothing can snatch you out of the pierced hands of your Savior, Jesus Christ.  No one and nothing can snatch you away from the Father.  Not even death.
            Your Good Shepherd goes to the depths of death and hell to keep you for Himself.  That’s what He does on the cross.  And now He tends you in the sheep fold of His Church.  There is Jesus, your Good Shepherd, comforting you with His rod and staff (Ps. 23:4).  Sometimes He has to use His shepherd’s crook to grab you around the neck and pull you away from what is bad for you.  That’s the Law.  Sometimes He has to discipline you with His rod.  But then He takes you up in His arms and carries you.  That’s the Gospel.  He binds your wounds.  He washes away your filth.  He feeds you what is good.  As one of my colleagues points out, you never see a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, where He isn’t carrying one of the sheep.  That sheep is wounded.  That sheep is you.  And there is no safe place for a wounded sheep except in the arms of the Good Shepherd.  He carries you.  He carries you home as His own, precious and beloved.
            And now He gives you all the blessings we sing of in Psalm 23.  He prepares a Table before you, His body and blood, given and shed for you, the spoils of His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  He anoints your head with oil, His Holy Spirit.  Your cup overflows with forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, and every other blessing.  Goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life, and the promise is certain: You will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5-6). 
            Sheep are not the smartest animals, and this is no flattering illustration Jesus uses to describe us.  But it’s good to be a sheep.  Because as a sheep, you know that all is in the hands of your Good Shepherd, Jesus.  You, yourself, are in those hands.  And those hands will carry you all the way through the valley of the shadow of death, to the resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus can do it, 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.         

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (C)
April 14, 2013
Text: John 21:1-19

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Our Gospel this morning, which takes place after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, parallels something very similar that happened at the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry (Luke 5:1-11).  Fishermen, Peter, James, and John, and probably Andrew, had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  They are present at the Lake of Gennesaret, washing their empty nets, as Jesus teaches the crowd from another boat.  And then He says to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4; ESV).  Peter objects.  He was, after all, an experienced fisherman.  He knew what he was doing.  Jesus was not a fisherman.  But why not?  Whatever you say, Jesus.  We’ll give it a try.  So they do as Jesus says, and you know what happens?  They catch such a large number of fish that the nets begin to break.  It takes two boats to contain the fish, and the boats start sinking.  Peter immediately realizes that something miraculous is happening.  Jesus is no ordinary man.  He falls at Jesus’ feet.  Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8).  And Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (v. 10).
            Fast forward three years.  So much has happened since that call of the first disciples.  So much teaching.  So many miracles.  Demons cast out, diseases healed, the dead raised.  Then there were the events of Holy Week: The cleansing of the Temple; the Passover in the upper room; Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the command to love one another; the bread and wine of which Jesus said, “This is my body, this is my blood”; the sweating of blood in the garden; the betrayal, arrest, and trial of Jesus; His crucifixion, death, and burial… and now, the resurrection!  So much to take in, to process.  Peter especially doesn’t know what to do with it all.  Remember, He had denied his Lord.  Three times.  He had wept bitterly.  Could he be forgiven?  And now, what is the relationship of any of the disciples to Jesus?  He appears and disappears without warning.  They never know when they’re going to see Him  What does it all mean?
            Peter doesn’t know.  But he does know how to fish.  He and his brother Andrew and their partners James and John, probably some of the other disciples as well… They were fishermen.  They had fished for a living before they met Jesus.  They had probably fished off and on while they were with Jesus.  So Peter makes the decision.  Time for some normalcy, some familiarity.  I am going fishing,” he declares matter-of-factly (John 21:3).  And the disciples who are with him, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and a couple others decide they are going with him.  They’re not fishing for leisure, understand.  They’re going back to work, to their daily vocation.  But the end is just like the beginning.  They fish all night and catch nothing.  I mean, it’s ridiculous.  There they are again with empty nets. 
            And then, a voice from the shore.  Children, do you have any fish?” (v. 5).  What is this guy, a smart alec?  No, we don’t have any fish.  Thanks for rubbing it in.  Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (v. 6).  Yeah, right.  But whatever.  Here goes nothing.  And what happens?  They catch such a great quantity they’re unable to haul it in (although, this time, the nets don’t break).  Now, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (v. 7), he’s always thinking.  He connects the dots.  We’ve seen this somewhere before!  Wait a second!  This is Jesus!  It is the Lord!” he says to Peter.  Upon which news Peter throws on his outer garment and throws himself into the sea.  (A little biblical humor: The other disciples simply row the boat to shore, “for they were not far from the land,” John writes [v. 8]).  And when they disembark, there is the risen Christ.  He’s cooking fish and bread (where did He get these fish, by the way?  He provides them.  He’s God).  He tells the disciples to bring some of the fish they’ve just caught, and there’s plenty.  153 large fish.  And Jesus feeds His disciples.  Come and have breakfast” (v. 12).  He “took the bread and gave it to them,” (v. 13), just as He had done when He instituted His Supper, and just as He had done for the disciples at Emmaus, an action by which they recognized the risen Lord.  And He did the same with the fish.  Jesus feeds His people.  He eats with them.  He’s risen from the dead.  Bodily.  He cooks.  He eats.  And at His Word, His disciples enjoy a great catch of fish. 
            So what’s going on here, theologically?  Follow me,” Jesus says to His disciples, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).  Follow me,” Jesus says to Peter at the conclusion of our Gospel lesson (John 21:19).  Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep” (vv. 15-16).  These texts have nothing to do with fishing on the lake or shepherding in the field.  They have everything to do with the Office of the Holy Ministry and the Holy Christian Church.  Jesus uses the literal fishing of the disciples to illustrate a tremendously important theological point.  When the disciples fish on their own initiative, by their own best efforts, using their own techniques and proven methods, they catch nothing.  But at the Word of Jesus, they enjoy a miraculous catch of fish.  Our Gospel even records the number, a rather peculiar fact, 153 of them.  Beloved, when preachers go out on their own initiative and put forth their own best efforts, using their own techniques and proven methods… when the Church tries to keep up with the latest fads, makes itself “relevant” by the standards of the day, often forsaking God’s Word, denying God’s Word, hiding the crosses, avoiding scandal by being politically correct… well, what happens?  Nothing.  Fish all night that way and you won’t catch any men.  Oh, it may appear that you catch many.  You may fill the former Compaq Center in Texas.  But will you have gained one soul for the Lord? 
            On the other hand, at the Word of Jesus… By His Word which alone can convert those who are alienated from God into God’s own children, with His Word as the net, let down on the “right side,” the proper side, the side commanded by the Lord… well, just watch what the Lord will do.  He’ll bring in a great catch of fish, and He’ll know every single one of them, the exact number (remember the 153 fish?).  He’ll know them right down to the very hairs of their head, which are all numbered.  Now, it may not look like much from our perspective.  It may not look very successful.  Quite the opposite.  The world will be offended by the preaching of Jesus’ Word.  The Church will always appear to be shrinking and dying.  She will often be persecuted.  The preachers will be imprisoned and killed.  Peter will stretch out his hands and another will dress him and carry him where he does not want to go (v. 18), probably a reference to his crucifixion, which according to tradition was upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.  No, it doesn’t look successful.  But we live by faith, not by sight.  We do not use the world’s standards to gage success.  By faith, we understand that the Holy Spirit is present in the Word of God to call sinners to Himself, to enlighten, sanctify, and keep them in the true faith of Jesus Christ, just as He does for us and for His whole Christian Church on earth.  By faith we understand that the Church is ever growing, that she never loses a member to death because those in heaven are still members of the Holy Church, that God grows His Church as He wills through the preaching of His Word.  And He provides for His people.  He feeds His people.  Literally.  He gives us our daily bread.  And He gives us what we need to live spiritually: Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins and raised for our justification, given to us in His Word and the Holy Supper of His body and blood. 
            So don’t lose heart, dear people of God!  Go to your daily vocation.  Go and be faithful. Live by God’s Word.  Trust Him to put food on your table.  Trust Him to feed you with His Word and Sacrament.  He is faithful.  He will do it.  And entrust the Church to Him, too.  He knows what He’s doing.  We don’t know what He’s doing.  He will do what He will do.  We aren’t called to success by worldly standards.  We are called to proclaim His Word faithfully.  Leave the rest to Him.  It’s His problem how many men we catch.  We are to be concerned with the preaching.  The Office of the Holy Ministry is given for this purpose: To feed the lambs.  To tend the sheep.  To preach Christ crucified for sinners.  To proclaim with all the people of God: He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (C)
April 7, 2013
Text: John 20:19-31

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            And that is precisely why you can believe Him when He says your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the evidence and substance of His authority to give you these gifts.  For if Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then He is who He says He is; namely, the Son of God, God in human flesh, your Savior, who died for your sins, and who has won the victory over death by His resurrection on the third day.  And if Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then all that He says is true.  You can believe His Word.  If He’s right about this, that after being crucified, He would be raised, then He’s right about everything else.  And we know on the basis of eyewitness testimony, and more importantly, on the basis of the Holy Spirit’s testimony recorded in Holy Scripture by these same eyewitnesses, that it is absolutely true: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
            It is the night of His resurrection.  The disciples are confused and afraid.  The Lord Jesus has been crucified.  But now some claim to have seen Him, risen and alive.  There are the women.  There are the disciples from Emmaus.  And even Peter claims to have seen the risen Christ.  Now the Ten are together.  Judas has departed to go to his own place (Acts 1:25).  Thomas also is not present.  And they are afraid.  They are afraid of the Jews.  They are afraid of the Romans.  They are afraid of imprisonment and persecution.  They are afraid of God’s judgment.  They are afraid of death.  Most of all, they are afraid because they had placed all their trust in their Teacher, Jesus, and now He’s dead.  Or is He?  It’s all so confusing.  But one thing is for sure: Their world has been turned upside down.  Suddenly, Jesus is standing among them.  The doors are still locked.  He didn’t sneak in through an open window.  He didn’t make a hole in the ceiling and repel down the wall.  He just appears in their midst.  He appears out of thin air, because (and note this very carefully) He’s been with them the whole time!  They couldn’t see Him to begin with.  But now they can.  Either way, seen or unseen, He is with them.  The risen Lord Jesus Christ now always and fully uses His divine powers.  He is present everywhere as God and as Man.  He is with His people at all times, wherever they go, as God and as Man.  He is hidden most of the time, but now in our text He is visible, and can be so whenever and wherever He wills.  But the fact never changes, He is with them. 
            And where Jesus is, there He speaks.  Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV).  And when He speaks, it is so.  It’s not just a sentimental wish that the disciples would enjoy peace.  He speaks the reality into their midst to address their fear.  Jesus’ peace dispels fear because it imparts forgiveness of sins and life.  This is Absolution!  This is the Hebrew idea of Shalom, peace with God, wellness, life, on the grand scale of Jesus’ resurrection victory over death.  Sin is done.  Death is done.  No more need for fear.  And so that this Shalom, this peace, doesn’t stay locked up with the disciples, Jesus ordains them to go and proclaim it in the forgiveness of sins.  He creates an office, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the preaching office.  Look at your bulletin cover as I read you this next verse: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’” (vv. 22-23).  Now, understand what is happening here.  Jesus breathes on His disciples.  We use breath to speak.  Jesus opens His mouth and breathes out His Words upon the apostles.  But this isn’t just any breath.  These aren’t just any words.  This is the Holy Spirit.  In Hebrew and Greek, the same word can mean spirit, wind, or breath.  We have this somewhat in English, too; for example, you can hear the word “spirit” in “respiration.”  Jesus respires, spirates, spirits upon the Ten as He speaks, and in this way, through His breathing, in His Word, He imparts the Holy Spirit.  It’s the same thing He did, by the way, in the Garden of Eden when He breathed the breath of life into Adam.  Here He is accomplishing the New Creation as He breathes His Spirit into the disciples.  And He gives them a charge.  Go forgive sins.  Go pronounce Absolution.  Go spread the peace that I have pronounced upon you in this room.  This is something all Christians are to do as you confess the risen Lord Jesus in your daily vocation.  But here the Lord charges the disciples to do this in a special sense, as holders of a divinely instituted office, the Office of the Holy Ministry. 
            The apostles, literally the “sent ones,” are sent to go and preach the peace of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life won by His death and resurrection, what we call the Gospel.  And as they do so, Jesus is with them the whole time.  They don’t speak their own words, they speak Jesus’ Word.  Whether it be in Absolution, or in preaching, the apostles as the first Christian pastors are sent to speak the peace of Jesus Christ in the forgiveness of sins to all people.  Now, the apostles themselves have died.  They are with Christ, in heaven, awaiting their own resurrection of the dead.  But their office lives on.  God sends you pastors to continue His speaking of the peace.  Look again at your bulletin cover.  When your pastor pronounces Absolution or preaches God’s Word, what is happening?  Remember, it’s not my words that I am to preach.  It is the Word of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  So what happens in preaching is that Jesus Christ really speaks to you in His own Word.  And in that speaking He breathes out upon you the Holy Spirit to create and sustain in you saving faith in Jesus Christ.  The pastor absolves you: “I forgive you all your sins,” but it’s not really the pastor absolving you, it’s Jesus, and as He speaks you receive the Spirit who proceeds from the mouth of your Savior so that you believe the forgiveness He gives to you.  The pastor preaches, expounding Holy Scripture, and the content is Jesus Christ Himself.  He is really the One preaching to you.  He opens His mouth and imparts His Spirit so that you believe the preaching, so that you believe in Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  We often talk about the real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar, His true body and blood under the bread and wine.  We need to talk more about His real presence in the preaching of His Word, His true voice under the weak speaking of His called and ordained servants.  When the pastor preaches God’s Word, it is really Christ, your Savior, who speaks to you.  Or, as you learned in the Catechism: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”[1]
            But maybe you still have your doubts.  After all, you know me, and you know my sins and weaknesses.  How could God use a loser like that to do such majestic things as forgive sins and speak forth the reality of eternal life?  Thomas had his doubts, too.  He wasn’t with the Ten the first time Jesus appeared in their midst.  Now, a week later, they are together again behind locked doors, and this time Thomas is with them.  And once again, Jesus is with them, and He proves it by appearing again in their midst.  Again, the same words, “Peace be with you” (v. 26), Absolution, forgiveness.  And now the casting out of doubt.  How can these things be true?  What is the authority for this proclamation of resurrection and forgiveness?  Jesus says, “Poke around in my wounds.  Thrust your fingers in my hands.  Thrust your hand into my side.  It’s really me.  I was crucified for you.  I died.  But behold, I live.”  The authority for this proclamation doesn’t rest with me, a weak and sinful human being.  The authority is the risen Lord Jesus.  He’s the One speaking.  The one who hears you hears me,” Jesus says (Luke 10:16).  He’s hidden in the Words, and in the water, and in the bread and wine.  He’s hidden, but He’s with you the whole time!  As God and as Man, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior is with you, speaking His peace in Absolution and preaching.  And as He speaks His peace, you receive His Spirit so that you believe Him.  Look again at the picture.  As a matter of fact, all of Holy Scripture is written for this purpose, that Jesus might speak His Spirit into you: “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 20:31).  So receiving the Spirit in the Word of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, you are led to confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  And you are led to confess with the whole Christian Church on earth and in heaven, “He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).