Is that All?
This Sunday is known as "Low Sunday." The high festive liturgy of Easter is passed. The church is not quite so bright or excited. It is a rather low Sunday' by comparison. We can be left with a feeling of, "Is that all?" Is that all there is to Easter? No, there's more; much more.
Easter is peace. Our text opens with the disciples behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus had been brought to trail on trumped up charges, brutally tortured, and unjustly crucified. The plotting of Jewish leaders was behind it all. If they did that to the Jesus, what would they do His followers? And what would Jesus do? By now they had heard from the women and Peter that Jesus had been raised. The death of Judas the betrayer, even though by suicide, made them pause. They had all betrayed Jesus in some sense. What bitter disappointments they must be to Jesus. They had let Him down. How could they expect anything good from Him?
The disciples' fears are our fears. No church leaders may threaten our life, but plenty of other things do. Freak accidents, strange illnesses, sudden deaths happen every day. One moment someone is walking around healthy, happy, and the next minute, that's it. Then there's the risen Jesus. We too have reason to be afraid of Him. The disciples' sins are ours too. Which of us hasn't betrayed Jesus for a material advantage as Judas did? Which of us hasn't denied Him in the company of others as Peter did? Which of us has believed all that He has promised? Why shouldn't we be afraid of Him?
Because He shows up and says, "Peace be with you." Commentators point out that this was an ordinary greeting in Jesus' day. It probably was, but it means something extraordinary coming from the lips of a Jesus who was crucified for you and now stands before you risen. This is no ordinary peace that Jesus gives twice.
On Maundy Thursday, right before Gethsemane, Jesus promised the disciples peace 2 times too. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you." And, "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace." Jesus gave them peace right before departing, but then they had gone on the warpath against Him and He had died so un-peacefully. Now Jesus shows up speaking peace again. The peace He brings is connected to the nail holes that proved He was the one that was crucified and the spear hole that proved He was the one who died. Jesus appears and says, "Peace be with you!" Then He shows them His hands and side and says it again.
Every fiber of their being is afraid. They're fearful of the world around them and fearful because of what their sins deserve. Jesus should abandon them to the Jews for how they had abandoned Him. Likewise, you know Jesus should abandon you to the disease, the accidents, the tragedies all around you because of your sins. Yet Jesus comes speaking peace to them and you. After the sermon you're told the peace of the Lord will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. After communing, you're told you can depart in peace from the Body and Blood of Jesus. And the service ends with the Lord lifting up His countenance upon you and giving you peace.
The fallen world and our many sins speak of war between us and God, but His hands and side speak peace. They testify that God made peace between us and Him by handing over His only begotten Son to torture and death. The full anger of God that ought to bring every evil in the world down upon our heads was brought down upon Jesus instead. The agonizing death our sins deserve was suffered by Jesus instead. Go ahead stick your finger into the nail holes; put your hand into His side and feel the proof that God has spent all His wrath against sinners and carried out the full punishment for your sins on Jesus.
God is reconciled with you through the Body and Blood of His Son; now, with St. Paul, I plead with you, "You be reconciled with Him." Come out from behind those locked doors. Stop thinking you're at the mercy of your enemies or that God is out to get you. No, God is out to give to you. And give He does. Jesus shows up and breathes on the disciples and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." This is plain weird. Whenever did the Lord ever do anything like this? Only in Eden. When He created Adam, it says, "He breathed into him (literally) the spirit of life." By breathing into Adam, the Lord gave him the power to pass on physical life. By breathing on the disciples, the Lord gave them the power to pass on spiritual life. How? The Spirit He breathed on and into them was the Spirit of forgiveness.
Think how these disciples could've accused each other. The rest of their lives Peter could've been known as cowardly Peter. John could've held a grudge because he alone of the apostles stayed at the cross. And they could've known Thomas as we all know him: doubting Thomas. This same spirit that doesn't let go of sins; this same spirit that delights in the faults of others; this same spirit that takes a moment of fear, doubt, and sin and makes it the characteristic of a fellow Christian's life is alive and thriving in the church today. Think of how people remember the one who fell away and came back as the one who fell away. Think of how families today bite and snap at the one who wasn't at the deathbed. Think of how we still know Thomas as doubting.
Then like a breath of fresh air the Lord breathes His Spirit of forgiveness into us and sends us as He was sent by His Father. Was Jesus sent to rub your nose in your sins? Was Jesus sent to remind you of your sins and make your suffer for them? No, Jesus was sent to pay for your sins and forgive them. He shows you His pierced hands and side as proof that the paying is done and over. What remains is the forgiving.
Easter is this too. The Lord gives us the peace of forgiven sins at Easter. He gives us the Spirit of forgiveness at Easer. And He gives us the power to forgive sins. People wouldn't yawn and say, "Is that all?" if we had the power to heal cancer. They wouldn't say, "Is that all?" if we had the power to make gold, smarter people, or happier ones. Yet, the power to forgive sins is a greater treasure than all the others. You get healed of cancer, and you'll still die from something else. You get all the gold in the world and that won't keep you out of hell. You become the smartest person in the world or get a lifetime of happiness and that won't stop death and judgment. And if at death you're found with your sins, they'll sink you faster and deeper into hell than a lead weight will sink you in water.
If you know this; if you see this, if you feel this then Easter is a whole lot more than a risen Jesus. It's not just about the dead living again in flesh and blood. It's about the dead living free from sins, from guilt, and from the power of the devil. That this is the big message of Easter is proven by this text. Jesus doesn't show up saying, "See flesh and blood can rise from the dead." He doesn't show up saying, "Look you can live forever." No, Jesus shows up giving the peace of forgiveness, the Spirit of forgiveness, and the actual power to forgive sins. Forgiveness is the big thing that Easter brings.
But as I said, if your sins aren't that big a deal, then Easter won't be a big deal either. But if sin is a big deal, Easter will be too. Hear 2 quotes from a Luther sermon on our text, "Christ is instituting here an office through which all the sins of the entire world may be forgiven and taken away." Again, in the same sermon, "If you desire forgiveness of your sins, you must seek it from the word, out of the mouth of the apostles, or the pastor, or a fellow Christian. If it is not sought from the mouth of the apostles, the pastor, or another Christian, you will not obtain forgiveness of sins" (in Klug, House Postil II, 66; 70).
Easter is the end of us trying to convince ourselves that we are forgiven. Easter is the end of us trying by positive thinking to rise above our guilt. Easter is the end of us being insecure, uncertain, or up in the air about our sins being completely forgiven. We are forgiven as sure as Christ is risen from the dead when our pastor or even a brother or sister in Christ sends our sins away from us. The words, "I forgive you," flowing out of their mouth pick up our sins off our back, off our conscience, off our heart and send them far away from us forever.
When Jesus rose from the dead, think of all things He could've talked about. He could've talked about the experience of dying. That would have been interesting, wouldn't it? He could've talked about His victorious descent into hell that send the demons running for cover. He could've talked about His resurrected body passing through locked doors. But He didn't speak of any of these things. He came back forgiving and speaking of forgiveness. He was not sent by His Father and He does not send us to entertain people, uplift people, or organize them to do good things for God. He was sent by the Father and so sends us to forgive sins.
Forgiveness changes everything. What made Peter go from a minder of things of men, a denier of Jesus, and a brash fool to a faithful apostle and martyr for the faith? Forgiveness. What made doubting Thomas become the apostle to India? Forgiveness. What turned ordinary, fallen, sinful men into apostles, a foundation for the Church? Forgiveness. You don't need training, you don't need motivating, you don't need bigger faith. You need forgiveness. You see your sins and you at the same place and time. Wrong. That's not how Jesus sees it. You think because you can't forget your sins; Jesus can't. Wrong. Jesus doesn't go by your thoughts but by His. You think because others remind you of your sins that Jesus does too. Wrong. Jesus doesn't go by the words of the person who won't forgive you but by the words of the one who does.
That's all Easter is: the peace of forgiveness, the Spirit of forgiveness, and the power to forgive. Even on Low Sunday, that's quite a high. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday of Easter (20070415); John 20: 19-23