The peace of the risen Christ be with you

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Sermon for Quasimodogeniti – Easter 1

1 John 5:4-10  +  John 20:19-31

It almost seems like today should be a funeral service after the horrible accident that took Jill away from us on Thursday. We’re all still grieving. But let’s think of this service, not as a funeral service, but as the necessary preparation for a funeral service. Because there can be no Christian funeral without the sure hope of eternal life for the one who falls asleep in Christ, without the sure hope of the resurrection of a Christian’s body from the dead. And there can be no resurrection for us, if there was no resurrection for Christ Jesus.

But there was, and so there will be.

The eleven apostles were still grieving the death of Jesus on that Sunday afternoon as they were gathered together in that upper room. They had no resurrection hope, not even after they heard the reports of the women about the empty tomb and their encounter with angels and with the risen Lord Himself. They were grieving, unbelieving, and afraid—afraid that they might die, as Jesus did, at the hands of the murderous Jews.

It was in that room full of grief and unbelief and fear of death that Jesus suddenly appeared out of nowhere and said, Peace be with you! And He showed them His hands and side. The apostles saw the evidence with their own eyes, and they finally believed.

Then Jesus gave them a commission: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus had been sent to represent God on earth, to speak for God His Father and to act on His Father’s behalf. He was, of course, the perfect representative of God, because He was God, the very image of His Father’s diving Being. As St. John told us way back in chapter 1 of his Gospel, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

But the apostles—they were not the only-begotten Son of God. They had never seen God. They were not “in the bosom of the Father,” as Jesus was. How were they to speak and act on God’s behalf?

Jesus takes care of that with what He did next: When He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There’s the knowledge they would need. There’s the power, the authority they would need. The gift of the Holy Spirit, and the authority to forgive sins to the penitent, or to not forgive sins to the impenitent. It’s a very specific authority Jesus gave to His apostles, to preach and teach the Gospel, to announce forgiveness or condemnation, to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Those are the assignments given by God to His apostles.

But the apostle Thomas was missing when the Lord came, out on an errand or something. And Thomas wasn’t the least bit discriminating when it came to men and women; he thought the women were crazy when they claimed they had seen the risen Lord Jesus, and he thought these ten men were crazy, too, when they told him the same thing. Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.

The unbelief of Thomas is a pitiful thing, a dangerous thing. He wouldn’t believe in the Lord’s resurrection. He wouldn’t believe the words of the witnesses, no matter how well he knew them (these were his fellow apostles, after all), no matter how reliable they were, no matter that their words were in agreement with Jesus’ own words. Thomas, at this moment, was a slave to his senses, a slave to his experience. Dead is dead, and that’s final.

And it usually is, but Thomas, you were there when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, and the son of the widow of Nain. You were there when Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb on the fourth day of his death. You heard Jesus promise to rise on the third day. And still you need to see in order to believe?

You can’t practice the Christian religion like that. If you won’t believe in the word of Jesus without visible proof, if you insist on interpreting everything around you based on what your reason can explain or on how you feel about it, you are lost. You’re like a blind man who refuses to acknowledge that light exists, simply because you can’t see it.

Jesus gives Thomas a week to sulk in the idolatry of his eyes, of his senses. Then He comes back with still more grace. “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Finally, Thomas believed and made the good confession: My Lord and my God! And Jesus said to Thomas, Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

If the apostles themselves couldn’t believe in the Lord’s resurrection without seeing Him, how can anyone? How can you? Well, it’s as St. John wrote: Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. These are written that you may believe.

The Apostle John is one of the chief witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. His Gospel is his sworn testimony to what he witnessed, to what he saw with his own eyes, and we believe his account, don’t we? That’s remarkable. We believe the written account of a man whom we never personally met about a Man whom we have never seen, alive or dead. And not only do we believe, but the Christian Church has been built throughout the world on the testimony of John and the other witnesses of the resurrection. Such is the power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathed upon His apostles on the Day of Pentecost, signified by His breathing upon them in the upper room on Easter Sunday.

The power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins are conferred on all the men who are called into the apostolic preaching office. We call it the “Power of the Keys,” the power to proclaim peace in the name of Jesus, the authority to free a person from his sins in the stead, in the place of God.

As of yesterday, April 22nd, I have been standing before you for ten years, forgiving sins to the penitent, and, when necessary, refusing forgiveness to those who would not repent. For ten years I have been saying, Peace be with you!, not as a man, not as your friend, not even as a Christian, but as a called and ordained servant of the Word, with the authority of Christ, and with the power of the Holy Spirit to work in you that which is pronounced.

We’ve been through a lot together over these past ten years (only a handful of you have even been here at Emmanuel that long), and by God’s grace, we are still here. Some are not. Some have moved away. Some have disbelieved the Word and walked away. Others have joined us here in common confession. Others have remained faithful until death, and have received the crown of life. I have done nothing. The Word has done everything.

So now, hear the Word of the risen Christ as you face another week in this sinful old world: Peace be with you! Hear the Word of the risen Christ as you struggle against sin and temptation, guilt and shame, fear and doubt: Peace be with you! Hear the Word of the risen Christ as you deal with death: Peace be with you! You haven’t seen the risen Lord Christ yet, but you will. May the power of His resurrection and the strength of His peace fill you with all joy and peace, in defiance of the devil, in defiance of death itself. Amen.

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