The Church–Alive from the Dead. Quasimodogeniti 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015
The Church: Alive from the Dead
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It was like the apostles were already shut up in a tomb on the evening of that first Easter. They were sitting in a house with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were afraid they would be the next ones to die. They still had their lives, but it was like the Church was already dead and closed up in its tomb.
But then Jesus appeared in the midst of them, said, “Peace to you” and showed them His hands and His side. He was not a dream. He was not a ghost. He was the same Jesus who had been nailed to the cross. It was their Jesus. He was alive in blood and flesh, the way you and I are alive right now.
It would be as if your loved one who had died showed up in your living room, and to prove it was really them they showed you the place where the IV had been in their arms. Or they showed you the incisions from the surgery, or the wounds from the car accident. All the pain is gone now. The marks just prove that it was really the same person you saw lying in the hospital. That’s what Jesus was showing His disciples in His hands and side. Yes, it is really Me, the same one you saw crucified, and I am alive and with you in the same body.
Before this it was like the Church was dead. But now that Jesus shows Himself alive, the Church begins to live again. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Their fear and grief turned to joy. And not just the joy you would have if a loved one who died came back to you, as great as that joy would be. Their God had come back to them. He was giving them peace, eternal life.
But I have just opened a wound. Many of us have had loved ones die whom we would give almost anything to see again. And that pleasure is not granted to us.
And besides that the Church often seems just like it did that first Easter before Jesus arrived in their midst. It seems already dead. How often we are overcome with gloom and live as if the Church was already in its tomb! We look at our circumstances and see—money problems, people no longer coming to hear the Word, fighting within the Church, hostility to it growing outside. We look and see these things but we don’t see Jesus. We don’t hear Him say, “Peace to you.”
We are tempted to think—If only Jesus would appear to us like He did to the disciples!
But brothers and sisters, Jesus didn’t even do that for them. He did here to show that He was risen. And He showed Himself several more times. But He didn’t stay on earth in a way that people could see—not even for the disciples. He ascended into heaven and a cloud hid Him from their sight. And this certainly was not the last time that the apostles would be afraid and feel alone.
Jesus did not promise that He would be visible to us to the end of the age. But He did promise to be with us, alive in flesh and blood. And when He is with us He shares the peace and the life that are His.
He does not show us His wounds, but He does show us marks that He is with us, sharing His life with us.
The marks that He is with us are the word and the sacraments. Whenever you hear the pure preaching of the good news of Jesus, that is a mark of Jesus, that He is there saying, “Peace to you.” Whenever you see a person baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that is a mark of Jesus’ presence, as surely as the marks of the nails. Whenever you see the bread and wine distributed in the confession that this is Jesus’ true body and blood, that is a mark of Jesus’ presence. Whenever people are absolved, forgiven of their sins by the pastor in the name of Jesus, you can be sure that the risen Jesus is present, giving His life and peace.
How can we be sure those are the marks of Jesus? Because in this Gospel He commissions the disciples to go in His name and forgive sins. “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven them. If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.”
Think about what that means. Jesus was the representative of the Father on earth. Whoever saw Him saw the Father. Whoever heard Jesus speak heard the Father speak. And now the disciples are representatives of Jesus. Whoever heard them say, “Your sins are forgiven,” heard Jesus say it as well.
That same authority is in the Church today. Jesus did not give the authority to forgive and retain sins only to the twelve. The authority to forgive and retain sins belongs to all who believe in Christ, to all who have the Holy Spirit.
That’s why when this congregation calls a man to be their pastor, it’s not just a human agreement or arrangement. God calls that man through the congregation to carry out the holy ministry of preaching God’s Word, administering the sacraments, and forgiving and retaining sins. The church’s call is the call of God.
And in the same way the church’s absolution through the pastor is Jesus’ forgiveness. Jesus does not appear in our midst and show us His wounds. But He shows His marks among us, marks that He is present in our midst. His voice is present, speaking to us in the sermon and the words of the Scripture. His voice is present, forgiving the sins of the repentant and pronouncing the binding of those who do not repent. And His body is present with us under the bread. Jesus is with us.
And He speaks peace and life to us who would otherwise be locked up in our tomb already. When He tells the story of His life, death, and resurrection. He convinces hearts that He is the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing we may have life in His name—the same life that was in Him and raised His crucified body from the dead.
When He pronounces the forgiveness of our sins, He is giving us His peace as surely as when He stood in the midst of the disciples and showed them His hands and side. He pronounces on us the peace that He made for us with God by those wounds—the forgiveness of our sins.
It is this peace and life of Jesus that we are blind to when we are locked up within the walls of the church as in a tomb, imprisoned by fear and gloom. We look at our earthly circumstances, which are bad, just as the disciples’ circumstances were bad on the first Easter (although not quite so bad). But we are not paying attention to the voice of Jesus as He speaks to us in the absolution, Scriptures, and the sermon. We are forgetting His voice in Holy Baptism as His Word joins with the water and makes it a bath of new birth, a lavish washing away of sin. In those words He is saying, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me so I am sending you.”
In the world our fortunes may be bad, but we have something the world cannot see. Jesus, risen bodily from the dead, is in our midst. He gives us peace that the world cannot give, forgiving our sins. He tells us His story, the story of the Christ, the Son of God, who has restored us to life by His death and resurrection. We may look like we are in a tomb, but actually we are alive, because the risen Lord feeds us here with His body and blood that have ransomed us from death.
Soli Deo Gloria