Peace in Resurrection
Text: John 20:19-31
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the games we like to play is “What if?” When I was a young child, I would play “What if?” so often that sometimes my mother would forbid me for starting a sentence with those words for the rest of the car ride or the afternoon. But it’s not just a game for children. We do it too. “What would I do if I won the lottery?” “What if this bad thing I’m afraid of happens?” “What would I do if that other thing actually happened?” We even turn that question toward our spiritual lives. “What if I had been in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth? I wouldn’t have sent them away to a stable.” “What if I was in Jerusalem after Jesus rose? I would have believed the Apostles when they said they saw Him; I wouldn’t have been a doubter like Thomas.”
But would we? We like to think that we’re in a different category than Thomas. That’s why we call him Doubting Thomas, after all. We put that label on him to mark him as different from us. But we have to remember that we’re the offspring of a deeply skeptical and disillusioned age. We’re not given to believe things that seem unlikely or impossible. What if I were to tell you that I performed a miracle, like Peter or the Apostles in our Acts reading—a healing? Would you believe me? What if I told you that I witnessed a miracle like that, the shadow of a man like Peter falling on someone who was sick or injured, and they were immediately healed? You’d be skeptical. You’d look for some other explanation. You’d think about placebo effects and psychosomatic physical changes. But you’d be hard pressed to believe that. The more cynical among us would think I was lying or exaggerating; the more charitable would assume that I just didn’t understand what was really happening when I told that story.
Maybe Thomas isn’t so far off from us. Put yourself in his sandals. He had reliable witnesses, his friends and fellow disciples, tell him that Jesus had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. They had seen it. It lined up with what Thomas knew about the Jerusalem leadership—they didn’t like Jesus and made no attempt to hide that. Thomas had heard from reliable, trustworthy witnesses about Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate—the next logical step in that sequence of events. He had his fellow Apostle John and the women disciples of Jesus tell him how they had seen their Lord and Master breathe His last breath on the cross, which was expected and predictable with crucifixions. He was just doing the math and not given to flights of fancy or an overactive imagination. Would you have been much different, knowing all those things had happened to Jesus, knowing that dead men don’t just come back from the dead, that what’s locked behind a stone and the government’s seal stays there? My guess is that you would take their wild-eyed report, “We have seen the Lord!” with a grain of salt, a dose of skepticism. Perhaps we shouldn’t call him Doubting Thomas, but Practical Thomas, Pragmatic Thomas, Rational Thomas.
That’s the challenge of Easter. It flips our world—and everything we know for certain about it—upside down. Everything we thought we knew is challenged. Death no longer gets the last word. The things we thought were so important and certain in this life are shown to be quite pale and fleeting when held up to eternity, which stares us in the face at Easter. Easter—Jesus’ resurrection—broadens our view, so now we can see God’s creation, and our lives, are so much more wonder-filled and mysterious than our cold, calculating age would ever recognize. There is still wonder, there are still things to marvel at. The dead do rise. Life and healing conquers death and illness. Light banishes darkness. Even the everyday issues we carry in our own hearts and minds, like the ones the Apostles carried—fear, despair, worry, doubt—even those are dealt with by Jesus. He gets the last word. He gets the final say on it all.
And that last word from Jesus is “Peace.” To the Apostles, locked in their room from the inside, His word was “Peace be with you.” To Thomas in all of his busy disbelieving thoughts searching for some other explanation that made more sense than resurrection, Jesus’ word was “Peace be with you.” And to your busy thoughts, your practical searching, your belief in the matters and opinions of the world above the matters and opinions of your God, even to your fear that it’s too wonderful to be true, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” And then He sends His Apostles to deliver that peace: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” His messengers are agents of that peace, delivering it in the same way Jesus does, delivering it with His permission and authority to back it up: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” That peace through forgiveness, through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrected life, continues on, tying every generation to the peace, the wonder, the contented joy of His resurrection.
I suspect that’s something we all are in desperate need of. Easter morning was seven days ago. Have you had anything shake the peace and joy of that day happen since then? Have you had the world close in on you since that morning, threatening to crush you, drowning you in its peaceless busyness that it says is so important? Have you had anger threaten your peace and joy, anger at the sins of others, frustration with your own missteps? Have you felt the cold emptiness of despair that something just isn’t getting better? Have you tasted a sip of the fear that all that stuff from Easter morning might be too good to be true? Have you seen shadows of darkness flit by, reminders of death, sin, pain? All these worldly matters and threats are tokens of the brokenness of a fallen world, a fallen mind, a fallen body and heart. They threaten your joy in Easter, like the Apostles’ joy was threatened by fear. They threaten your hope in Easter, like Thomas’ was threatened by doubt. They touch your life too.
So Christ speaks peace. Peace be with you, who are hard-pressed by a merciless world that keeps demanding more and more from you. Jesus is enough, He has enough, He will always be enough, and will give you what you need and more. Peace be with you, who feel the cut of sins that others commit against you or the guilt of your own trespasses. Your Lord washes you clean of the shame poured on you by others; He washes you clean from your own sins and mistakes. Peace be with you, who fear, who doubt, who are startled at the darkness that remains in this fallen world. Your Lord has already conquered them. His victory was complete when He rose from the dead. Those shadows have numbered days and soon they’ll be gone forever in the light of the new heavens and new earth when our Lord and God returns.
To remind you of that peace, Jesus still sends His servants to speak it, to deliver it. Have you ever noticed how many places in the liturgy talk about peace? And have you noticed where peace is spoken in the service? It’s always tied to Jesus’ forgiveness—delivered—that gives life, life that transcends and overcomes the cold calculations of the world; forgiveness and life that rises over all those things that we thought were so important; life that is forever, with all God’s faithful redeemed. Pay attention for the rest of the service for where we talk about peace. We’ve already prayed for peace, “In peace let us pray to the Lord…For the peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.” That came right after we had our sins forgiven at the beginning of the service. Forgiveness, peace. Soon peace will be spoken to us—“The peace of the Lord be with you always”—in connection with the forgiveness of sins given in the Lord’s Supper. And what’s the very last word that Jesus will speak to you in this service? “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”
So depart in peace. Your sins, your doubts, are forgiven. You have been handed the peace that passes all understanding, all rationality and reason. You have peace in the world that’s been flipped upside down by Jesus’ resurrection; reordered, reorganized, reprioritized by Jesus’ eternal life. You have peace that lasts forever because your life in Him lasts forever. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and our God, Amen.