It’s a bit late (I didn’t have the file with me in my weekly travels), but here is the sermon from yesterday, for those who did not have opportunity to hear the Word in Christ’s Church yesterday. You can use it with the Home Matins I uploaded last week (John 20:19-31 is the reading, and the Hymn of the Day is Your-Favorite-Easter-Hymn!)
Jesus is still risen. That hasn’t changed since last week. He was raised from the dead, and death never gets a second chance with him. Death doesn’t have that kind of power.
We see all around the power that death has. The fear of death has the power to bring our nation to a standstill. In a majority of states, this gathering would be illegal. We would have to break up into smaller groups with fewer people – as few as 5. Or even not meet at all and just watch the video online. The fear of death is strong. Even after several weeks, questions keep arising – should we meet, is this too many together? Maybe we should give up for a while. The service is already so short that it wouldn’t make much difference if we just don’t meet, does it?
And then we come here and hear the account of Jesus meeting with the disciples. What a difference that meeting made! The disciples see Jesus. In just a few moments, all of their fear, the dread, the pain, the loss, the grief, it’s all gone. And it can never return. Thomas isn’t there. For a solid week, Thomas thought the disciples had lost their minds. Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, I will not believe. And then, on that second Sunday of Easter – so today – he learns that it is all true. And now, everything has changed for Thomas as well. Jesus is raised. He will stay raised. Death is done for.
That’s great news for us today. We’ve seen what happens when the world is under the thumb of sickness and death. If you had a vaccine, the line would stretch for miles. People would give their life savings for it. People go to any lengths to avoid the dread disease, to fight the cancer, to extend this earthly life just a few more years, or months, or days.
Jesus appears to the disciples. He was dead. The doors were locked. Neither of those things can hold him. He broke through death, He walked through the door. And then he appears to them. The first words – peace be with you. A necessary blessing. They were locked in for fear that they would also be taken and executed. Death lurked outside that door. Jesus comes to them to make it all right. To take away their fear. To grant them peace. As he told them “I came so that you may have life and have it to the full. And now that I’ve gone into death and been raised, that life is yours. That’s what Jesus means when he says peace be with you. It doesn’t only mean guards aren’t waiting outside around the corner for you. No raiding party. It also means the payment has been made for your sins. They are taken away, and swallowed up in Jesus death. And all of the death that goes with them is swallowed up by His death.
And it is at this moment – this moment of fear turned to disbelief turned to joy – that Jesus gives the church her task her work in the world. Jesus tells the disciples “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” He gives a power reserved to God alone: the authority to forgive sins. You hear a lot of talk these days about how important it is to learn to forgive yourself. To find peace with who you are. To come to grips with your own self. But none of that can bring peace. True peace can only come when your sins are forgiven before God in heaven. And that’s what Jesus gives to his church – to all the church. Forgiveness of sins, and a clean conscience before God. That’s more valuable than all the gold in the world, because all the riches of this world can not cleanse the conscience. Nothing in this world can bring peace to our minds and souls. Only forgiveness of sins before God in heaven can do that. And the flesh rages against that kind of peace. Our sinful nature fights tooth and nail. We want to find our own peace. We don’t want to be tied down to God and his rules and his type of peace. And so we go searching through all the world for some kind of peace. Something in this world that can help us sleep at night, can dull our conscience so that, in the darkness we do not have to face the truth. But this world can not bring peace. And this world can not grant life to the dying. The only true peace is found in the forgiveness of sins given in Jesus death. The only life that will last is found in the life Jesus gives you by his resurrection.
Forgiveness of sins is tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the payment for your sins. There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved. There is no other act which earns you forgiveness. It’s Jesus and his death for you. It is given by Jesus to the church after he is raised from the dead. And the church freely forgives the sins of all those who repent all those who turn away from their sins and turn toward Christ. That is what the church is for, it is what pastors are for. To bring forgiveness of sins.
And all Christians can forgive their neighbor – whether that neighbor be a spouse or a sibling or a cousin or friend or coworker. The world doesn’t know how to say “I forgive you”. Forgiveness is replaces with the weak and powerless “That’s ok”. But when there is real sin, real hurt, then “I’m sorry” “That’s Ok” is a lie. And not a helpful one. We need the peace that comes from “I have sinned against you” I forgive you your sin against me.” That’s the Christian way of speaking to each other. And its so important. It is the only thing that can heal the wounds which our sins inflict on those around us. And we can only learn this in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins which he gives in his church through the water and word, through the absolution spoken by the pastor “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins…”
All around us, the world is chasing after various worldly things. But here, in this place, we have reserved this place, this time for the forgiveness given by Jesus through his death and resurrection.
Thomas didn’t believe when he heard the good news. A week spent with the stubborn conviction it could not be true. It takes Jesus to dispel the doubts. To undo the unbelief. To replace fear with peace. And that is what Jesus does – Thomas kneels and confesses, “My Lord and my God.” So also we confess that Jesus is Lord and God. We receive the forgiveness of sins. We take eat and drink of the precious medicine that cleanses our conscience and heals our souls. And Jesus replaces your fear with his peace. The world can not harm you. Even death can not hurt. As one early church father said, “You can kill us but you can not harm us.” Death can not harm Christ’s people. Because death itself is passing away. The good news of Easter – Death is dead. It’s still there, bony fingers, skull and scythe at the ready to claim victim after victim in this world. But the power of death is broken. Like a dog with no teeth, a cat without claws. The power of death is gone. And soon, very soon, our Lord will return and then death will be abolished. We will break through the chains of death and be given a new life in Christ – a new body, and the entry into eternity that Jesus promised for all those who are forgiven their sins.
Grant this Lord unto us all.