Sunday, April 07, 2013

Peace Be With You (Sermon preached April 7 for Easter 2-C)

Sermon text: John 20:19-31

O Sons and Daughters of the King, the joy of the empty tomb continues today, as the risen Lord lives, and you share in His victory.  One week after that most holy day of days, your jubilee and praise to God has not been silenced, but your Alleluias confess the glorious truth which you are blessed to believe.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 
Please pray with me: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

            The disciples had locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews.  They were huddled together, despairing in apparent defeat, when all of a sudden, the crucified Lord was standing in their midst.
            I’m not so sure this was an immediately cheerful sight for those despairing disciples.  You may remember, that last week, St. Luke’s account of Easter morning reported that when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James had told all the disciples that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus was indeed alive, just as He had said, each and every one of the disciples had refused to believe it.  We always remember that Thomas was slow to believe—and we will get to Thomas—but when the risen Lord miraculously enters that locked room full of despairing disciples, He is entering a room full of disciples whose biggest problem is not their fear of the Jews, but their refusal to believe that Jesus was alive.  Death without resurrection, is just death.
You can well imagine, then, that when they looked up and saw the crucified Jesus standing right in front of them, it was not an immediately happy occasion.  Being afraid that the Jews might come after Jesus’ followers, and make the disciples their next victims was reason enough to be afraid, but now, that idle tale of resurrection those gullible ladies had reported in the morning—that all important news which each and every one of the disciples had refused to believe—had been confirmed by Jesus, who was standing in the midst of them.  They had been wrong.  And the person about whom they had been wrong was right there in front of them.
And then, Jesus began to speak.  And if you’ve ever been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, and you knew that your punishment was coming; if you’ve ever been caught in a lie, and knew that you couldn’t avoid the consequences of the lie; if you’ve ever been running your mouth about someone when all of a sudden that someone was standing in your presence and you knew they would not be happy; if you’ve ever been completely guilty and found yourself in the presence of the one who had the power and authority to carry out the worse punishment imaginable, then you can begin to understand why the risen Lord’s appearance to those fearful disciples on that first Easter evening was not an immediately cheerful sight.  But then he began to speak.
And the words He began to speak were not what they expected.  Judgment. Wrath.  Maybe a little admonishment like they had heard so many times before, “Why are you so slow to believe?”  But there was none of that.  No heaping on to an already guilty party.  No pounding with the Law those who were already convicted of their sin by Jesus’ mere presence.  He just opened his mouth, and spoke holy absolution: “Peace be with you.”  He just opened His mouth, and by speaking peace to those fearfully guilty disciples He was forgiving them of all of their unbelief, and telling them that there was nothing that stood between them and God.  Not death; not sin; not even their refusal to believe.  None of it.  It was all gone; forgiven; absolved.  Peace be with you.  And then, his unexpected words, were accompanied by His marks.
Peace was theirs, you see, because of the marks.  The nails in hands and feet, the spear in His side, those were the marks He had earned in paying for their sin.  The disciples were probably wondering how in the world they could get off Scott Free, but Jesus shows them His hands and his side because those marks were the payment for their sin.  It’s as if, the peace that he offered, could only be accepted when the disciples were reminded why Jesus had died in the first place.  It’s as if, in showing them His hands and His side, he was saying, “Don’t you know, that I died for all your sin?  I knew you were weak.  I knew would fall away.  I knew you would be slow to believe.  Those are the sins for which I died.  Remember! But now, I’m alive!  Peace be with you.”
You see, the scars in Jesus’ hands and side were the payment for sin, but his resurrected flesh and blood were the proof that the payment had been accepted.  One plus one equaled joy!  The marks in His hands and His side, along with the living and breathing Jesus standing in their midst, went together to turn their frowns upside-down.  Where there had been fear and despair just moments before, there was now joy and peace.  Jesus was crucified to pay for sin, but he was raised to give peace.
And peace He would give.  First to those fearful disciples who refused to believe, and then to Thomas who always gets a bad name, but was really just like all the rest.  Without Him seeing the marks in the hands and side of the risen Lord He would not believe that there was any peace to be had.  Apart from the very same Jesus who had been crucified and laid in that tomb standing in front of him so He could put his hands in those blessed wounds, there was no way that Thomas would accept that they could again have confidence, and comfort once again.  If Jesus was alive, then there would be peace that passed all human understanding, but Thomas wasn’t about to fall for it, without seeing the risen Lord for himself.
And so he did.  And there was—peace.  Eight days later, the disciples were locked together again—and again, the risen Lord miraculously entered the room and stood in the midst of them.  And there he was, marks and all, inviting Thomas to do just what Thomas said he would need to do.  “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Stop refusing to believe.  Believe it.”  There are the marks.  It really is me, who they crucified.  I’m alive and well.  And you.  I forgive you.  Be at peace.”  And he was.
Thomas had now seen what the other disciples had already seen.  Now he knew that the miraculous had indeed occurred.  Jesus was not dead.  He was alive.  There was peace after all.  And Thomas can only confess what he now knows to be the case:  “My Lord, and my God.”
All of the disciples, including Thomas, needed to see Jesus alive in order to believe that they could have peace with God.  They knew that they head feared, and fallen away; they knew that they had despaired of apparent defeat; they needed to know that the Jesus who was crucified was, in fact, the very same Jesus who was raised from the dead.  It had to be the very same person—the very same body that was placed in the tomb—or there wouldn’t—there couldn’t—be peace at all.  And while we might give Thomas and his fellow disciples a bit of a hard time for refusing to believe without seeing, it is good for you today, that they did, in fact, demand to see.  And that they did see—along with 500 others.  For while the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is much more than a mere historical fact, if it is going to bring you peace with God, it must be an historical fact.
Christianity is not some theory of philosophy that has seemed to work well for a few thousands years.  Christianity is not just another one of the world religions that demands its adherents to follow the golden rule.  Christianity is not just another religion.  It is the faith that believes the fact that a fully human man named Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, was also the Son of God, who was crucified, died, and was buried because of mankind’s sin.  But it’s also the faith that believes the historical fact that the same Jesus who was taken off the cross and placed in the tomb, was standing the midst of His disciples on Easter morning, and again one week later, alive and well.  Because all of that is true, not only did the disciples who saw Him standing there with their very own eyes have peace and comfort and joy, but, I pray, so do all of you, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, have not seen the risen Lord with your eyes, and yet, have believed.
Peace be with you.  It’s what Jesus said to the disciples when they had refused to believe.  Peace be with you.  It’s what Jesus said to Thomas when he had refused to believe.  Peace be with you.  It’s what Jesus gives the apostles to speak to all who would live in fear, and despair because of their sin.  “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.”  Not because the apostles had any power to forgive sin, but because Jesus’ marks prove that payment has been made for all sin, and His resurrection proves that the payment was accepted.  Peace be with you.  It’s what I have been called, and ordained, to speak to you.  Not because I have seen the risen Lord, but because those disciples did.  Not because I have authority to forgive sins, but because Jesus does.  And Jesus does forgive sins.  He has forgiven your sins.  How do you know?  Well, because Thomas, and those other disciples demanded to see the proof.
Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  Amen.

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