The Second Sunday of Easter

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“Peace”

John 20:19-31

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is peace, to know the power of the Resurrection.  This is peace, to know that your sins are forgiven by the living Jesus-that He stands among you not as a memory, not as a ghost, not as a creation of the collective imagination of the Church, but as Himself, with new breath and glorified flesh.  Twice He enters a room which is locked from the inside; twice He speaks the peace of God upon the disciples.  The first time, on that first evening after the Resurrection, Jesus stands in the midst of the ten-where is Thomas, anyway?-and says, “Peace to you.”  And He showed them the signs of peace, His hands and His side; at these signs they rejoiced, because they knew that He was not a ghost, nor even a spirit-Jesus who had shucked off His troublesome flesh.  No, the Jesus who had been put into the tomb on that Friday was the very same Jesus who left it again on Sunday; the same Jesus who showed Himself to Mary Magdalene, removing her sorrow and incomprehension; the same Jesus who had known the piercing of nails and whose Body had been opened by a spear.  He is risen, just as He said!  There is no doubt in the disciples’ minds; they rejoice.  The second time Jesus stands in their midst-notice: stands; He is no floating, legless apparition-Thomas is there as well.  Thomas, who had spoken the intention of the Twelve to follow Jesus to death: “Let us also go, in order that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).  Thomas, who forever bears the shameful prefix “doubting”; who is simply investigating thoroughly the claim of the other ten disciples.  Let us make him neither worse nor better than he is.  While it is true that he doubts, and that he wants to see and touch before he will believe, he is no worse than the other ten who would not believe the word of Mary Magdalene.  Even after Mary tells them that she saw the Lord and tells them the things that He had said, the ten remain in a locked room.  They do not rejoice until they see the Lord for themselves, until He shows them His wounds and speaks His peace.

Indeed!  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ!  By that Word, faith slowly crept into the locked and darkened hearts of those who had once walked and talked with Jesus.  The Word came to sorrowful Mary, at which she did not want to let Him go again; the Word came and stood in the midst of the ten, who rejoiced; the Word invited Thomas to fulfill his own conditions for belief, and called forth the confession, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Thomas did not really need to touch; the Word was enough.  But it was the Word made flesh that stood in front of him.  He could have touched if He wanted.  And if he had, he would have felt real flesh, real wounds, a real Body really resurrected.  These signs of His crucifixion and resurrection have been proclaimed since the very beginning of the fellowship of believers.  In the Book of Acts we hear that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33, ESV).  The Apostle John said the same: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-the life that was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it…” (1 John 1:1-2a, ESV).  All this testimony is for one purpose: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, ESV).  The same Apostle wrote in his Gospel: “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 20:30-31, ESV).  We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because He was raised from the dead.  All other signs point to this Sign, and without this Sign, all other signs are empty.

Thomas knew that if Jesus was raised from the dead, He was both Lord and God.  And not just Lord and God; my Lord and my God.  There is no other.  If He is Lord, He is my Lord and your Lord.  If He is God, He is my God and your God.  “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord…” (Small Catechism, 2nd Article of the Creed).  Do you think Thomas was ever the same again?  Neither are you the same as you were before Easter, whether the first Easter, or April 12, or today, which we celebrate because it is the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection.  Every Lord’s Day means new, resurrection Life, because you are once again incorporated into the Body of the risen Lord; every Lord’s Day you see the signs of the Resurrection; every Lord’s Day we cry out together with Thomas and the whole company of saints: My Lord and my God!  Though we do not see the resurrected Jesus in His flesh the same way that Mary and the ten and Thomas saw Him, we do have His pledges of salvation and peace.  First, we have His Body and Blood, by which we proclaim His death until He comes-though if He was only dead He could not give them to us.  We have the written and spoken testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses of the resurrection.  We have the recorded and proclaimed signs that we, too, might believe that Jesus is the Christ and by faith have life in His Name.  Jesus, the Righteous One, is the propitiation, the payment, for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  And He comes into the midst of us, who abandoned Him to the cross, through doors that we have locked from the inside, hiding sins that we want no one to know, and He speaks peace to us: the peace of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  It is His own authority to forgive sins that Jesus gives to His Church: to the pastor who absolves publicly and to the people who absolve privately, whatever sins anyone might confess.  All sins are covered by the blood of Jesus; even yours, even mine.  We proclaim the peace that comes from that forgiveness, so that all people might share in the one fellowship of the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

We who share that fellowship in this place pray: “Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God” (Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter, LSB Series B).  What would a life lived in celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection look like?  What would conversation spoken out of the reality of the Resurrection sound like?  At the center of such a life would be the celebration of everything that God gives to those who believe the resurrection of Jesus.  The people formed by that event would gather in believing joy around Word and Sacrament, the Word and the Sacraments of the crucified and resurrected Jesus.  The center of the resurrected life, which we share by Baptism with the resurrected Lord, is His resurrected Body and Blood.  The Lord’s Supper is the 200-proof essence of the Gospel.  There simply is no better expression of the Gospel than this: Jesus’ own Body and Blood given and shed for you, put into your mouth, eaten and drunk by you.  It is an amazing fact of creation that infants receive everything they need for life from their mothers’ milk.  Christians, likewise, receive everything they need for life from their spiritual mother, the Church, in and through whom Jesus does His saving work.  So Peter writes, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, ESV).  We were all given new birth by water and the Word, and we are fed the pure spiritual milk: pure forgiveness, pure salvation, pure, free gift.  And from this center of our resurrected life together in Jesus Christ flows every other facet of our lives.  And what about the confessing conversation for which we pray?  Paul gives us an idea of what conversation spoken out of the fact of the resurrection might sound like: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving… Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech be always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:2, 5-6, ESV).  Peter echoes Paul: “…in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15-16a, ESV).  The reason for the hope that is within you is the resurrection of your Lord and God.  By grace, the fact of the resurrection is the fact around which our lives and conversation revolve, so that what we do and say is always a peace-filled confession of who Christ is and who we are in Christ-that is our prayer.  And we pray and speak and do so that as many as possible might hear that Christ is the payment for their sins and that they might share the fellowship of Christ with us, the fellowship of faith in the one bread and the one cup.  God, grant it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/14/09

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