He is Risen! He is Risen indeed Alleluia!
On Monday, Melissa and I spoke with a young mother from our pre-school in general conversation that ultimately was lead to a place where she disclosed fear and uncertainty about the general direction of things in our world. It was good to know that there are others who share the same fears, there’s a bit of comfort that comes just from knowing that you do not suffer alone but at the crux of it all is sin. Dear friends, fear is Sin. I know this is hard to understand but let me explain; fear is at it’s very heart unbelief, not believing that Christ has done all to free us from the bondage of sin and death, it is a sin that is never entered into consciously, in fact it is one of the sins that we often fall into, it is a sin that with no effort of our own, and quite as a result of something we have seen or heard; i.e. missiles in North Korea that gets played upon in our minds, Satan takes such small things as words from a radio, a television, a newspaper and whispers into our ears something like this; you see, Christ hasn’t really died for this world… look at what’s happening all around you, think about what might happen to you, your family, your friends, your community or your country… if Christ has died and risen… surely bad things wouldn’t continue to happen. Surely He hasn’t died for you. Dear friends, this is just one of many forms of temptation that the Evil one uses to convince us that what we see with our eyes is more true than what we have by faith heard with our ears about what Christ has done. The Devil says, Just as He always has; “Did God really say….?” And even for we who know deeply what Christ has said, have heard it on a weekly basis, have been reminded time and again…. forget.
So it was for the disciples that first Easter night. There were no Easter buffets, no egg hunts, no family get togethers. To say that confusion and joy and elation and unbelief coincided would be an understatement. Mary had seen Jesus that morning alive, two of Jesus disciples had seen him on the road and had actually walked with Him but the 10 who had followed Him for the last three years…. they were wracked with guilt from having broken all their promises to their Lord, Peter had denied Jesus three times and those 10 men in that upper room knew that something evil was most assuredly being planned for them in the Sanhedrin (the tribunal that had sentenced Jesus to death). Fear encompassed those men and they stayed behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They had trapped themselves, they ran from possibilities and might be’s, their unbelief in Jesus resurrection lead them to despair, their glimmer of hope that He might be alive terrified them, their fear of death trapped them and their guilt and shame bound them. They had no escape from themselves; their own thoughts and actions.
And in just an instant, in the midst of palpable fear, uncertainty and utter hopelessness Jesus appeared in the midst of the 10 men speaking the sweetest words that could ever be uttered, words that shattered fear, emasculated uncertainty and brought hope and utter elation to those once fearful and trembling men. “Peace be with you.” But what did He mean? Had He come bringing hope and certainty just for this temporal life? Had Jesus come bestowing promises that wars would cease, people would become honest and trust worthy and that everything was going to be alright with the world now that He had fulfilled His promise? Indeed not, it’s much more simple than that, with implications that transcend this world.
Jesus showed them His wounds, His hands and His side, He came to those men at just the right time showing them that He was indeed the very One who had been killed, and that He very much was the One who had risen and He came that night bestowing exactly what they needed most… peace, assurance, a calm and certainty. Our Lord came that night to men, just like you and me, stricken with grief, shame, embarrassment, fear and uncertainty and brought to them yet again the very peace that He had promised to them just days before; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jesus brought no gifts wrapped in ribbons and bows, He brought them no boxes or parcels, He brought Himself and by this He brought with Him the very absolution, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation He had won for those men by His bloody death on the cross. Jesus was the peace… peace that was with them as He had promised on Maundy Thursday when He gave Himself to them and us in bread and wine, peace that came through the putting of sin to death with Him on the cross and ultimate peace that slapped death in the face, crushed its head by His conquering of death and the grave. Jesus came that night with these gifts, all which were found only in Him. But it didn’t end there, for you dear brothers and sisters were on our Lord’s mind that very night as well.
By His very presence, just hours after rising from the dead, our Lord brought the gift of Absolution, He held the keys to death, the keys that were written about in our Epistle lesson and in that upper room your Lord and Savior ensured that the forgiveness that He bestowed upon those men would be the very forgiveness that you receive today, He gave His word to those men.
Nearly three years ago, some of you gathered with wine and cheese, smiles on your faces and anxious curiosity as you watched the call service at the Fort Wayne Seminary to see who the Holy Spirit would call to be the pastor of Christ’s church here at Pinnacle, little did you know then, that exactly like what you see happening in our Gospel reading for today was being fulfilled right before your very eyes. Indeed for millennia, Christ’s church has practiced what Christ instituted that first Easter night. Little did you know that the man who would be called here would be the one given the charge, indeed handed the very keys of the forgiveness of sins. But as you watched, perhaps your hearts even raced, God was fulfilling before your eyes John 20:19-31.
That first Easter evening in that upper room, Christ your Lord was ensuring that all generations that would follow, would hear those same sweet words in the midst of the sinful fear that plagues their everyday. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Dear brother’s and sister’s believe all you will about the irrelevance of the true church because she lacks spark and fizzle and flash, let the world laugh if it must at the benign repetitions of our Lord’s bride, let the world trample us under their feet for believing in such folly as virgin birth’s, bloody crucifixions and unbelievable resurrections, for by reason these things are folly, but let not the world ever say that Our Lord has not been steadfast and faithful, let not the world ever say that He has not fulfilled His every promise, let not this world say that the word of truth can be denied, for through tempests, revolutions, massacres, plagues, tyrannies, and all sorts of sin and vice the Lord’s Church has triumphed, does triumph and will triumph and the proof stands before you today. A remnant remains dear brothers and sister’s of Christ’s church. A man, just like those shaking disciples, has been given the keys to life and death, the keys of forgiving and retaining sins, indeed everything the man who holds the office of pastor does revolves around the forgiveness of sins; preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick and dying and yes sometimes even withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant so long as they do not repent. That is the business of Christ’s bride, that is the business of your pastor and this is so because it is the business of your Lord.
Today, in the midst of fear, in the upper rooms of our very lives Christ has come into our midst just as He did that first Easter and amidst this worlds cacophony of sin, Christ your Lord has once again brought you to the comforts of His House, has sat you down and said softly and quietly, mercifully and assuredly… Peace be with you. (Pause)
It’s simplicity is laughable, the speed with which it brings sinners back is unfathomable, its certainty is unquestionable, and the stillness that it brings in the midst of the fears, terrors and sadness of this life is simply magnificent. That is what Absolution does, that is what the keys that have been handed to God’s men do, those keys unshackle you, loosen you, liberate you and the simple words You are forgiven stand true here and now on earth and before your Loving Father in Heaven. Peace is yours simply because Christ has earned it for you, it is yours by hearing what your Lord has said, He works the faith which believes this, His Spirit draws you to His church to hear this and His Spirit keeps you in this One True faith.
Dear friends I have told you that your Lord had you in mind those days after His resurrection; but if you think that your sins are too big, if you think that these great gifts are not for you listen to your Lord’s words to Thomas eight days after that first Easter night. Eight days later, his disciples (the 10) were inside again, and Thomas (the 11th) was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Here comes the kicker…. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Dearly beloved, that is you, the ones who have not seen the wounds and yet have believed.
How have you come to believe? Because you have heard. How shall you continue to believe? Because you shall hear. This is your Lord’s promise, that until the last day, amidst all calamity, strife, obstinacy, unbelief, sin and fear that His word shall prevail! He is Risen as He said and He continues to come not in some figurative sense, not in some ubber spiritual sense, but actually, by such common means that shall always be around. By water and the Word He shall continue to cleanse, by bread and wine He shall continue to give us His body and blood and by His word, the lies, the deceptions, the trivialities of this present world will continue to be unmasked for what they are, senseless prattle, desperate dying gasps by the foiled and crushed devil, the world, her senselessness, her misguided nature and yes even your sinful flesh have been conquered, you are no longer slaves to these things for the keys have loosened you from their bondage. You are now, Children of God, children of your Easter King, your Lord who has Risen indeed has redeemed you! By His wounds, by his stripes you are healed! There is nothing left for the baptized to fear, for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign! Behold, this is the feast of victory for our God, it is a feast of the fattest and most fulfilling things this side of heaven, and the table has been set for you. There is a place with your name dearly beloved, for it was your sins which died with Christ, and it is your name dear Christians that is even now written in the book of life for Christ’s sake. Amen.