(Easter 1 – April 19, 2009)
“Peace be with you”
(Easter 1 – April 19, 2009)
“Peace be with you”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from John 20. We focus on the words, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, Peace be with you.
We have heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have heard how he crushed Satan and won salvation for all who believe His Word. This is the victory of God over all the powers of darkness and despair. So why is it that the Sunday after Easter always seems like a letdown? In the Church year this Sunday is sometimes called Low Sunday. I’m not sure if this refers to low attendance or how low the disciples felt in our Gospel lesson, but it is certainly true that things are different for the disciples and for us.
Our Gospel lesson takes place the evening Jesus’ rose from the dead. Last week we heard of the morning’s events. Jesus rises from the dead, and appears to Mary Magdalene, and says her name. When she went to tell the disciples, though, they didn’t believe her. They thought she was crazy, or perhaps was drunk. So that brings us to this week’s lesson
In our text the disciples are hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus has risen from the dead, but the disciples are afraid. They are afraid of the Jews, they are afraid they are going to be found out, they are afraid that they have put their hope in a dead God. What could be more pathetic than that?
That is how it goes with our faith, too. It’s easy to feel good on Easter morning. The music, the readings, the beauty of the service, everything points to the wonder of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But what about later? What about after the glow of the resurrection seems to wear off? What about those times when you are alone with your sins. What about those times in your faith-life when you feel like you can get no breath, when you feel like you are choking or being asphyxiated because it just isn’t in you?
We’ve all been there. Like the disciples, our emotions as Christians ebbs and flows. There are times when we feel close to God, but there are other times when we feel far away and distant, unconnected, afraid and alone. That is where the disciples were that first Easter evening. They were there with you.
This is how Satan seeks to work on you, my friends. The last thing Satan wants you to believe is the connection between Easter and your faith. If He can convince you that Christ’s death and resurrection were just events from a storybook a long time ago, if he can convince you of that, then Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has no meaning. That is Satan’s ploy. He seeks to convince you that you don’t believe. He is willing to lie, deceive, convince, do whatever he can in His power to draw you away from Christ’s words of forgiveness and life.
Left to yourself, you are stuck, right there in league with Satan. But you are not left to yourself. That is the point of our Gospel lesson today. Jesus appears in the midst of them and says, Peace be to you. Jesus knows His disciples don’t believe in Him at that time. He knows that they are filled with unbelief and doubt. He also knows they are full of fear at the Law and that they need to hear words of comfort and hope.
So He says to them, Peace be with you. Notice how tender these words are in the ears of the disciples. Notice how tender these words are to you. Peace. The wall of separation between God and man was broken when Jesus burst forth from the tomb. God and man are not longer at enmity; they are no longer at war with each other. They are at peace. But like prisoners of war, the disciples have not heard the news. They haven’t received the fruit of Jesus’ work on the cross and in the tomb. So Jesus preaches to them and says, peace be with you.
They are great words. With those words Jesus comforts you and gives you hope. Jesus died and rose again from the dead to put those words in your ears. Peace be with you. He doesn’t pummel with the Law, he doesn’t mock them or condemn for their unbelief, although I suppose the disciples deserved it, as do we. No, Jesus gives them the only thing that could actually make a difference. He gave them peace. As Jesus uses the word here, it means the same thing as forgiveness. He forgives them their sins. They are gone.
But Jesus isn’t satisfied to simply forgive the since of the eleven some 2000 years ago. No, He then gives them the peace again, and says to them: whoever sins you forgiven, they are forgiven; and whoever’s sins you hold back, they are held back.
In Lutheran theology we call this the Office of the Keys. Jesus gives the Keys to the disciples, now called the Apostles or sent-ones. He gives them the keys and says that their work, they life task is to be about forgiving sins. They are to release sins, get rid of them and cast them into the depth of the sea.
That is the work of the Christian Church. That is why we gather here Sunday after Sunday. God draws you to this house week after week so that He can say to you, Peace be with you. I forgive you your sins. That is the point. God does forgive your sins. Remember the words from the end of our Gospel lesson, These things 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.
God puts His peace on you. He gives it to you, freely, not because of any merit or worthiness on your part, but because of His great and abundant mercy, which knows no bounds. This is what the world doesn’t get about Easter. For so many, even for many Christians, Easter is about the drama of the event or the pageantry or whatever. Now we do make a big deal about Easter. But we do so because Jesus died and rose again for us. Remember again the words from the Creed: who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man. God came down to earth with a purpose.
The old title for this Sunday is Quasimodo Geniti, from the Introit, which begins, “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word.” The power of Easter lies in the Word of God. For it is in that Word of God, peace be with you, that all of Christ’s work on the cross and in the tomb becomes yours. God puts those words of forgiveness in your ears in absolution, which we heard about during our Lenten midweek series. He puts those words into your ears here on Sunday.
He puts those words on your heart in Holy Baptism. And He puts those words of forgiveness in your mouth in His Holy Supper. As we prayed in the Introit, open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. Our Lord gives you His very Word made flesh here today. Receive it with thanksgiving, for all of God’s work is now given to you. Peace be with you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.