SERMON FOR THE WEEK: Peace be with you
Because opportunities to attend services may be limited for several weeks, the newspaper has invited local clergy to submit sermons for publication here.
St. John’s Lutheran, Lincolnville
We focus on the words, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19b)
Our reading takes place on the evening Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to the women, and gave them His greeting. Then they were instructed to go and tell all His disciples to go to Galilee, where they would see Him.
The 11 weren’t sure about the message the ladies brought.
They were hiding behind closed doors. Jesus had risen from the dead, but the disciples were afraid of the Jews, afraid they were going to be found, afraid that they had put their hope, their faith, in a dead God.
That is how it sometimes goes with our faith too. It is easy to feel good on Easter morning, even in the “stay at home” mode we have been in for several weeks. The music is inspiring, the readings are powerful, the beauty of the decorations in the church service all work together to point to the wonder of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
But what about later, after the glow of the resurrection seems to wear off? What about those times when you are alone with your sins? What about those times in your faith life when you feel you can get no breath, when you feel you are choking or being asphyxiated because it just isn’t in you?
We have all been there. Our emotions as Christians ebb and flow. There are times we feel close to God – very connected; but there are other times we feel far away and distant — unconnected, afraid and alone.
That is where the disciples appear to be that first Easter evening. That may also be where you are in these days of an imposed quarantine due to the pandemic. For completely different reasons, you may very well feel as the disciples did in that locked room —very alone, even if you are with someone.
That is how Satan seeks to work on you. The last thing Satan wants you to believe is the connection between Easter and your faith. If He can convince you that Christ’s death and resurrection were just events from a storybook that was written long ago, then Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has no meaning. He seeks to convince you so that you will not believe.
Left to yourself, you are stuck, right there in union with Satan. But you are not left to yourself!
That is the point of our Gospel today. Jesus appears in the midst of them and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus knows His disciples are struggling to understand and believe all He has told them. He knows they are filled with doubt and maybe unbelief. He also knows they are filled with fear and they need to hear words of comfort and hope.
So He says to them twice in that first visit, and then again the following week, “Peace be with you.”
Notice how tender these words are. It is no coincidence that these are the very words I use to sign off on almost every email I send as a pastor.
The wall of separation between God and man was broken when Jesus burst forth from the tomb. God and man are no longer at odds. They are at peace. But like prisoners of war, the disciples have not yet fully grasped the news. They haven’t received into their souls the fruit of Jesus’ work on the cross and at the tomb.
So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Those are such great words. With those words Jesus comforts and gives hope. Jesus gives the only thing that could actually make a difference.
He gave them peace.
That is the victory He won at the cross and at the empty tomb.
Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (John 20:21a-23)
In Lutheran theology we call this the Office of the Keys. He gives them the keys and says their work is to be about forgiving sins.
That is still the work of the Christian Church today. That is why we typically gather Sunday after Sunday, even as we are doing now remotely. God draws us to His house so He can say to you, “Peace be with you. I forgive you all your sins.” That is the point! God does forgive your sins.
Consider the words of John that Jesus did many more things than are recorded in the Bible, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
God puts His peace on you. He gives it to you freely, not because of merit or worthiness on your part, but because of His great and abundant mercy, which knows no limits.
This is what the world doesn’t get about Easter. For so many, Easter is about the drama of the events or the pageantry. We do make a big deal about Easter and its details. But we do so because Jesus died and rose again for us.
Remember the words from the Nicene Creed: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”
The power of Easter lies in the Word of God. For it is in that Word of God, “peace be with you,” that all of Christ’s work on the cross and in the tomb becomes yours.
God puts those words in your ears so that with thanksgiving you may know that God’s work is now given to you in the forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Peace be with you!” Amen.
Last modified April 29, 2020