Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 3, 2016
“The Joyful Mission”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It is the evening of the first Easter Sunday. St. John pictures the eleven disciples of Jesus sitting inside a house with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.”
Why were the disciples afraid? It’s simple. Outside was death. Jesus had been murdered days before, and Jesus’ disciples were nowhere near as strong as He.
But then, says John, this miserable handful of scared men begins to rejoice. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20)
Our flesh might expect the story to end here, happily ever after, with the disciples basking in the peace of God.
But it is not the end of the story.
Jesus doesn’t stop at proclaiming forgiveness of sins and peace with God to His beleaguered disciples in that room. His reign of salvation and life extends to the ends of the earth, to all people and throughout time. “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.’” (John 20:22-23)
Jesus empowers and sends the disciples to be the risen Christ, so to speak, to the world. They aren’t Him, but they are given His power and authority, so that when they say, “Peace be with you,” it is the peace of the Lord and conqueror of death.
He’s sending them out of those doors that they have locked to try to keep out death. He’s sending them out into the world that killed Him and which will also kill them. But they are no longer to fear death. They are to reign over it.
He’s sending them out to reign with Him as King.
They will go out into the world and exercise Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and to hold sins unforgiven. They will go out into the world like little Lord Christs, and in His name they will forgive some sinners and they will hold some sinners bound in their sins until the day of judgment.
But why would Jesus give this prerogative of God to eleven men who were unable to stand by Him when He suffered?
That is a good question. But it’s not simply a question about the disciples then; it also concerns us, who have been made Jesus’ disciples by Baptism and catechesis.
All Christians are called to reign as little Lord Christs. Every Christian is called to participate in forgiving and retaining sins—by supporting the Church and the ministry of Word and Sacraments, by proclaiming God’s Word to family and neighbors. Every Christian is called to reign with Christ by serving the world with words and deeds. Finally, every Christian is to share the marks of the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s Kingdom; to endure the cross and suffering for the privilege of proclaiming His forgiveness and judgment.
But the question is how Jesus can give you this royal privilege, the authority to “forgive and retain sins”, also known in the Catechism as the office of the keys. You too have proven untrustworthy. You have been embarrassed of Jesus, have run away to save your skin when you should have willingly endured the cross with your Lord.
This is not the way who believe in risen Lord should act. They should not be afraid, but be joyful. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord; they didn’t remember how they were small in number, how their enemies were great and powerful, how death was waiting for them outside the door. They rejoiced when they saw Jesus, because in Him they had peace with God. It was as if they no longer remembered their weakness, their sins, the hostility of the world, or death.
Yet many baptized Christians act as if all they can see is the church’s weakness, the hostility of the world, the pain of the cross, and the power of death. It’s as if Jesus hasn’t risen, conquered death, loosed us from sins, and as if He isn’t present in our midst in flesh and blood.
In other words, they manifest unbelief.
And as a result, by no means are they willing to go outside the locked room and reign with Jesus.
What is this but to live as if Christ is not risen? Hypocritical Christians don’t recognize this. They don’t realize they are called to reign with Christ; they are content to live what they consider virtuous lives in the flesh. They say, “I do enough. I go to church. I’m as good a Christian as anyone can expect. Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to put my life, reputation, comfort, or standard of living at risk to be a Christian. After all, we’re supposed to be saved by grace apart from works.”
Real Christians, however, are troubled by this failure to follow Jesus out of hiding and self-protection. They recognize that when Jesus gives us peace with God, it’s not an earthly peace. Peace with God means that God exalts us with Christ. We become “a royal priesthood”, as Lutherans are fond of saying—kings and priests together with Jesus. But as kings with Jesus, we go into the world not to be served, but to serve. We proclaim God’s law and His Gospel, we serve our neighbor in every way. But we also endure hostility from the world and the devil. To receive Christ’s blessing, “Peace be with you” by true faith at the same time means to receive His cross. Christians are troubled to recognize all the ways we try to avoid the cross. They are all manifestations of our unbelief in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the world.
And this is another reason why Jesus gave the office of the Keys to the Church. It isn’t simply so that we may forgive and retain the sins of those outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. Jesus gave this authority also for the sake of those within the visible Church, so that those who are baptized and yet struggle to leave the locked room may be loosed of their sins.
When Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed, “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He was proclaiming not only that they were forgiven, but that they were new creatures. What they saw themselves to be—men who a few days before had fallen away from Christ, who were weak and unworthy to be His disciples—was not who they were anymore. Jesus forgave them everything, and His forgiveness also meant that the old disciples had died and new men had risen in their place.
And when you are absolved of your sins, Jesus frees you from them as well. Their guilt is taken away. But you are also not the person you were before. You live now by His Spirit. Your sins, inscribed on His flesh with nail and spear, died when He lay in the tomb; now that He is risen, the wounds are memorials before God of your priceless worth to Him. The old you has died, nailed to the cross with the Lord, and you now live in Him who died and has been raised again, in Him over whom sin and death have no dominion (Romans 6).
That is what enables us to go out into the world to reign with Him—this appearance by Jesus declaring that His work for our justification is finished.
Yet in the Church so many people seem to be unaware of the fact that in the Divine Service, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in Absolution, Jesus is appearing to us with peace just as in that locked room on the first Easter. This is shown by so many people’s lukewarmness toward His Word and Sacraments. People don’t come to pastors and say, “Show us Jesus.” Generally pastors have to urge people not to despise the Divine Service, Bible Study, and so on. But nowhere is this more evident than in people’s disregard of absolution.
Yes, we’re willing to be absolved in general, as we do in the service. But that’s really not much different than what happens in preaching, except we add a general confession of sins to it. A sainted member of the church once remarked to me that private confession and absolution probably made it seem “more real”. This person never came to private confession but understood that it’s easy to admit in a general way “I’m a sinner” without owning the sins by which we have earned damnation. Similarly, it’s easy to hear “I forgive you all your sins” in the same way—as a general statement about the way God works instead of a personal forgiveness for our personal unfaithfulness. General statements don’t usually provide much comfort.
The reality is that everyone struggles with sin. It’s true that God has already assured us of the forgiveness of sins in the Scripture. Yet it is also true that many people doubt whether that forgiveness applies to them because of the state of their heart. When you reveal your sins in front of the man God has called to speak in His name, and that man forgives your sins with the authority Christ here gives to His Church, it provides comfort and assurance that is greater than your heart.
In private confession and absolution God’s forgiveness spoken in response to the very things that make you feel alienated from God. The absolution says those things are forgiven, and that you are not the person that you see in yourself, who has repeatedly failed Christ and cannot be trusted to reign with Him. You are a new person, raised from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Private absolution says, “You can speak God’s judgment and grace to the world because you are not the slave of sin you once were. You are released from sin and condemnation; peace be with you.” You are righteous through Christ, and everything He has is yours. You are no longer under the law’s curse; you have been set free from the law, having died to it through the body of Jesus.
Of course, no one is going to force you to confess and receive absolution privately. No one should be forced to receive the gifts of Christ. If our need and the greatness of the gifts don’t compel us to come to hear God’s Word preached, or to baptize our children, or receive the Lord’s Supper, or go to Bible study, or read it at home, or confess and be absolved, external force won’t help. It would be wrong for me, however, not to show you the greatness of Christ’s gifts and remind you of your need.
But mostly I preach this for those who see their need for it and desire the blessing, but who are afraid or ashamed; I preach this to encourage you to come. I cannot invite you as graciously as Jesus invites you; I wish I could. I can tell you that Jesus welcomes sinners and those who are weak in faith. He wants them especially to receive His comfort and pardon. I can tell you that the greater our sins appear to us, the more worthy we are of condemnation, the more graciously Jesus invites us to come to Him. When we come, He will not only forgive us. He will wipe our guilt and shame away entirely. He will make us reign with Him, seat us above the holy angels, make them our servants.
I can tell you that when Jesus showed the disciples His hands and side He didn’t do it simply to show it was Him, nor did He do it to remind them of their sins. It was also an invitation to them to consider how sincerely He loved them and had how completely He had forgiven and put away their sins. The place of the nails and the spear in His body are seals to us that we no longer have anything to fear, but have peace with God that can’t be taken away.
By those same marks Jesus invites and urges us to come to Him so that we may hear Him say, “Peace be with you”. I pray that you will hear His invitation and recognize that when He opens His Word, bestows His Sacraments, and absolves us, He comes into our midst with peace as He came into that locked room. And when He does so He enables us to leave our locked rooms and go forth into the world with His peace to reign with Him.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
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
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 7, 2013
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Beloved of our Lord Jesus,
Jerusalem’s gates will never be shut (Rev. 21, Is. 60). This means they have no fear of attackers. Jerusalem is the Christian church, Christ’s little flock.
But the doors are shut where the disciples are. They know there are bad people outside who want to hurt them.
This is not the life Jesus promised the Church. John says in the Epistle: Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. Who overcomes the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
The church didn’t look like it was overcoming the world. It was in hiding, running from the world for fear.
That’s because to overcome the world is beyond human power. To be born of God is beyond human power.
People in Jesus’ day thought that they could recognize the truth and choose to follow it. They think the same today. Jesus will come in if we just open the door and let Him into our hearts.
Jesus disagreed. You are not able to do that, He said.
And He is right. If Jesus only could come to us if we held the door open for Him, the church would have died in the room with the cowering disciples. In shutting the doors they were keeping the Jews out but also, unwittingly, showing that they didn’t believe Jesus’ word—Don’t be troubled. I will rise on the third day.
We think, and it really seems true, that we and other people don’t believe because either Jesus has not done enough, or we have not done enough.
Thomas is ready to believe as soon as he can thrust his hand into Jesus’ side.
We don’t hold the door for Jesus. He doesn’t come into our midst because we let Him in or because we are expecting Him.
He doesn’t carry out His mission in the world because we let Him out.
The stone wasn’t rolled away from the tomb to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in and see that He was not there.
We don’t hold the door open for Jesus. Our old nature does not allow that.
To open the door to Jesus to our old nature is like the disciples opening the door of that room. Jesus said He would come in. But it seems a lot more likely some guards with spears and torches and chains will come.
We don’t expect God to do us good. We call into question God’s good will toward us. We act like His power is bound by our willingness or unwillingness. This is nothing new. Look at Sarah. She laughed when she overheard that the Lord would return a year from that time and cause her, an old woman, to bear a child in her old age. She laughed at God. And she is one of the examples for Christians.
We do this continually, and even if we overcome it, it is always present with us—resistance, unbelief, calling God a liar. Looking to another God.
We are truly helpless to save ourselves. You can’t do anything to make God turn His heart toward you. Nor can you rid yourself of your resistance toward God.
Even the apostles couldn’t.
What hope is there for us then?
Only this: that God has decided to be open toward us and freely forgive all our sins.
When Jesus was in the room with the disciples, He said, “Take, eat, this is my body…” He was informing them that He was indeed going to death as He had said, and that they could not come with them. But they should not be troubled. It was all for them. And just as clearly as He showed them that He was open to them and for them—washing their feet, giving them His flesh and blood even as they were about to forsake Him—He also explained to them that His Father was for them. If you had really known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.