Reading: John 20:19-31 (Acts 5:29-42)
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Ever have your doubts? Of course you do. You’ve waited for personal revelation. You’ve hoped to have an experience, perhaps without the tragedy and hardship, of Heaven is For Real. We’d like to have personal revelation of Jesus. If at any point you’ve bargained with God: Lord, show me this or do this and I will believe; act in this way and I’ll know this is true; provide this and I’ll be more faithful. We crave that personal revelation to strengthen our faith.
Emotional things have a way of changing our perception and feelings. Want to persuade someone, want to effect someone’s behavior or thoughts, just play with their emotions. It’s why we are quick to proclaim everything of God is good when things are going well and question the Lord’s goodness in times of difficulty and struggle. It’s why there is bargaining attempts with God.
We’re not the only ones to such bargaining. Luther did so. He famously bargained with God through St. Anne that he’d become a monk if spared from a lightning storm. Thomas bargained that he’d believe the resurrection if he could see and touch.
Think of the emotion and energy going around. In a matter of ten days Lazarus was raised from four days in the tomb, the Triumphal Entry happened, all the events in Temple of turning tables and talk of taxes, to the Lord’s Supper instituted, Judas’ betrayal, Gethsemane, the trial, and crucifixion, and these women come saying he is risen. In that span of time it was Thomas who proclaimed that the disciples ought to go with Jesus so that they may die with him. On Maundy Thursday when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them it was Thomas who boldly asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
While Thomas gets a bum rap for being the one who doubted, let’s be honest, the women went and told the disciples, Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen it empty, and they are still hiding in fear. Emotions are running high. They feared the Jews, they feared death, even though their Lord is risen. Truth be told, most of us would react just like Thomas. We’d want to see the evidence. It’s why we have such difficulty receiving the testimony of Scripture as given. As much as it is helpful apologetically, Christian faith isn’t contingent on our own reason and strength of weighing the evidence. Yes, there is lots of outside evidence that supports many portions of Scripture. Even thought we attend church and believe, we constantly demand it though. We want the evidence. We want to hear stories and depictions of near death experiences that validate what we think. We want to see and touch historical artifacts for fear we are being made fools just as much as Thomas and the others.
Like the disciples we fear. We fear death and persecution. We’d rather the Christian life be easy even though the Lord has told us and disciples repeatedly that you will be persecuted, mocked, and spit upon, even though the apostles and most of those throughout the history of the Christian Church is that which is persecuted, mocked, and spit upon by culture and society. Christians are constantly attacked, the Christian faith constantly mocked.
Jesus wasn’t the first, nor the last, to make claim to being the Messiah or the Son of God. Usually the Jews could simply handle this with fear. Kill the man. Such as Theudas, and his followers will disperse. That was the desired outcome for the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Kill him and the disciples will disperse and come to nothing. It worked, almost. They were afraid. They were hiding. Only Jesus is risen. As they found Him at the tomb, He is not here, He is risen as He said. We can give them a hard time but we hide behind locked doors of our Christian faith, not for fear of being killed as they did but even for being made fun of or looked at funny.
This is the day of resurrection. It’s toward evening. Fear abounds still but so to does confusion. So Jesus does what He must do to all of us, He comes to them. They weren’t looking for Him. Just as they weren’t when He called them to be disciples. He, the risen Lord appears to them.
Amidst all the fear and doubt the Word made flesh comes to them and gives them His Word, “peace be with you.” Peace. Often times when the Lord comes the first words proclaimed are “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid often said as unholy sinners ought to die in the presence of the Holy Lord. Now, even more than just don’t be afraid, you’re not going to die, but actual peace with God.
“Peace be with you,” from Him whose words mean and do something. This is peace with God given from the Word made flesh, the Word that gives light when it is said “let there be light.” As He taught them in the upper room on Thursday, “my peace I give to you, not as the world gives. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus doesn’t give a prayer and wish for peace but Himself, now, gives peace.
Peace with God. Peace that only the crucified and risen Lord gives and proclaims. By His Spirit He changes who they are and what it is they do. No longer are they disciples, students, learners. Now they are apostles, ones who are sent. Sent to forgive sins. Their forgiveness is Jesus’ forgiveness.
A question asked from the liturgy of private confession, as well as corporate confession, is “do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” We hear it Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, or in private. It confesses what the pastor is and what he speaks. Forgiveness, or retaining of sin that refuses to be forgiven (i.e. not confessed as sin). The Catechism calls it the Office of the Keys, for by the simple spoken Word of Christ the key of heaven that locks and unlocks heaven itself by giving the Word of Christ and forgiveness He brings in death and resurrection.
In the midst of struggles, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of fear is sure and simple Word of Christ. The Word made flesh who is risen. For Thomas the risen Lord would come and speak again, “peace be with you.” Thomas believes and confesses, not by sight or touch but by hearing the Word “do not disbelieve but believe.” Thomas believes by hearing. The same for you, for faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Christ. Seeing didn’t cause faith. Our sight and perception can deceive us. The Word brought forth faith, for Thomas and for you.
Blessed are you. Your sin is forgiven. You have peace with God. In the midst of doubt and fear is the certainty of the Word. In the stead and by the command of Christ, your sin is forgiven. The risen Christ comes to you over and over again, “the peace of the Lord be with you always.”
You respond as one who has heard and believes, “Amen. This is true and certain.”
Blessed are you. Peace be with you. Amen.