April 8, 2018: Easter 2B (English)
Easter 2B: John 20:19-31
Zion Lutheran Church, April 8th, 2018
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the second Sunday of Easter, the second of seven. We celebrate Easter for seven weeks because Easter is at the core of our existence as Christians and as the church. The belief that Jesus died and rose again, and that we, too, shall rise in our own resurrection, that belief is the heart of our faith.
With it being so very important, the question comes up as to what proof we have the resurrection actually happened. We could point to the empty tomb as evidence, to the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, or to the list of apostles and believers who saw, spoke to, and ate with the risen Lord.
However, the most compelling evidence, I think, is the remarkable change in the disciples. We hear about this change in our gospel reading today.
After Jesus’ arrest the disciples had fled and then stayed hidden for three days. Easter day, as we read today, finds them huddles in a room with the doors locked. They are lost, confused, scared.
There is great disappointment among the disciples. They had had such hopes in Jesus’ movement, and now Jesus is dead and it is all over.
There is confusion in the room. What should they do now? Go back to their old way of life?
There is shame among the disciples. They had all failed Jesus, and they know it.
There is great sadness in the room, grief over the death of the master and friend they loved so much.
There is fear in the room. What would the authorities do to them? Are their lives at stake, too?
To some degree, the mood in that room reminds me of the atmosphere in a locker room after a team loses an important match. Hopes are shattered, a mission has not been accomplished, and everybody feels like a loser, without much hope or self-esteem. Players are afraid to face the fans, the reporters, the world, even themselves in the mirror. You can just imagine the players sitting on benches, leaning forward, elbows on knees, heads hanging low, not looking at each other except for quick sideways glances.
That’s how I imagine the disciples on that first Easter day.
Suddenly, Jesus steps into their midst. The first words out of his mouth are, “Peace be with you.” Jesus if offering his friends peace, a peace they sorely need on many levels.
They need peace with each other. If they are to carry on the mission of the kingdom of God, they need to get along with one another, look at one another, work with one another.
The disciples need to be at peace with Jesus. They are to be representatives of Christ in the world, and they can only represent Jesus authentically and wholeheartedly if they are at peace with him, if their relationship is strong and loving.
The disciples need to be at peace with themselves. All that guilt and shame and regret and embarrassment over their behavior needs to be removed if they are to greet the world with a message of hope.
Peace. The disciples need peace, the peace Jesus offers. The peace comes to them through forgiveness. Easter has a lot to do with forgiveness. The disciples learn that in today’s gospel.
Imagine the scene: The disciples are huddled in that room. Jesus steps into their midst. And what is their immediate reaction? Fear! Great fear. These people know what Jesus can do; they have seen plenty of miracles. And these people know how they have let Jesus down. Now the powerful Lord they have abandoned stands before them. Jesus has every right to be raging mad at this faithless bunch of yahoos. What will he do to them? Has he come for revenge?
Instead, Jesus offers them peace. He has to offer it a couple of times before the disciples get it and believe it. Jesus comes with peace. Jesus talks with them and invites them to come close, to see the marks of his crucifixion.
In all this, Jesus is offering them his forgiveness. He doesn’t hold their failure against them. Instead, he blesses them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and calls them again to be his disciples. Jesus wants them back. This is amazing grace.
It is this forgiveness Jesus offers them that makes it possible for peace to come over the disciples. When Jesus forgives their betrayal and failure, they can let go of their own guilt and shame. They can be at peace with themselves, and as a result, they can be at peace with one another. Jesus is alive. Jesus has forgiven them. The feeling of gloom and doom is gone and hope is restored.
In this encounter with the risen Jesus, the disciples are changed completely. Jesus comes and forgives them, and as a result everything is different. A frightened, fearful, regretful, downcast group in hiding suddenly bursts through the doors and into the world with joy and hope, with energy and peace, with courage to share the radical news of a risen savior.
It is this complete change in the behavior of the disciples that convinces me that the resurrection really happened. Nowhere else but in the forgiveness of the risen Lord in front of them would they have been able to find that kind of radical faith. The resurrection is about new life, and the disciples certainly experience that new life. It is a life filled with joy and hope and peace.
It is a life that compels them out of the locked room and into the world. That world is just as hostile as it had been before. The world has not changed because of Easter. The disciples have changed. Armed with the peace of Jesus’ forgiveness, they are ready to take chances for the sake of the gospel.
The disciples are an imperfect bunch. Jesus knows that. And yet, Jesus calls them again to be his disciples and sends them out in his name. Their mission, according to Jesus’ words in our gospel reading, is to spread forgiveness. “As the Father sent me, so I sent you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
Why would Jesus choose this group of imperfect people to become agents of forgiveness? Because they really, really know what it feels like to be forgiven. They have failed miserably, and they have been forgiven wondrously, and now nothing in this world could ever stop them from proclaiming Jesus’ forgiving love.
The disciples are sent into the world to bring the new life of Easter to all people. A main tool for renewing humanity is forgiveness. They are to go out and proclaim Christ and forgive people in his name.
This world is hungry for forgiveness. People in our world experience great hurt and brokenness, great loneliness and separation, great loss and emptiness, great regret and shame, great pain and guilt. In their search for relief they try all kinds of things: They spend a lot of money on all kinds of therapies; they call psychics and talk shows to hear that they are all right; they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
We need to talk to these people, because we are disciples of Jesus who are sent out with a word of forgiveness and peace. We can tell them about a savior who has overcome sin and death and has power to forgive. We have a peace to proclaim that passes all human understanding and that can heal the soul. We are agents of Christ’s forgiveness for today. We received the Holy Spirit in our baptism and we have been called as witnesses to the resurrection and its healing power.
Why would Jesus call us of all people? Well, not because we are so perfect and wonderful. Sorry. Rather, Jesus chose us for the same reason he chose the disciples in the upper room: We have experienced how wonderful it is to be forgiven. We have experienced the power of the risen Lord when people of God forgave us. We have felt Jesus’ amazing grace when we were hiding out of shame and he came to meet us. We have a received his peace: peace to let go of our guild and shame; peace to accept ourselves; peace to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus’ forgiveness restored us time and again, and time and again it has filled us with joy.
The joy now urges us to go forth and witness to the risen Christ. We are agents of Christ’s forgiveness. We are bearers of Christ’s healing word of grace. We are witnesses to Christ’s power over sin and death. We bring the experience of the risen Lord into other people’s lives.
We are just like the disciples. We are group of rather diverse people from all walks of life, imperfect and dealing with past sins. And yet, the Lord calls us together through his word; he meets us in the sacrament of communion and says, “Peace be with you.” He calls us to be his disciples who will extend his healing forgiveness to the world.
At Easter, we are celebrating the rising of Jesus. But we are also celebrating the rising of the disciples to become the imperfect but blessed and renewed and forgiven and powerful body of Christ.
Let us rise, as well. Let us be a place of forgiveness and peace. Let us be powerful witnesses to the resurrection of our Lord. For he is risen – he is risen indeed. Alleluia.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.