SERMON FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER, 4-8-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Dear friends of God and those called to be saints at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center, grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, and in the weeks ahead, we continue to celebrate the festival of the resurrection – as we should – it’s the very foundation of our faith. He died on Good Friday for the sins of the whole world. Following His death for sin, Jesus descended to hell to empty it of its power. He rips the gates off their hinges and leads a victory march through hell.
The Lord had spoken through Hosea about the work of Christ 700 years earlier: The Lord said, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plague; O grave, I will be thy destruction.”
And so God raised him up from the dead. He showed himself alive to the disciples. He confirmed his own words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” The Scriptures teach us that Our Savior Jesus Christ utterly abolished death for those who believe in Him and brought life and immortality to light.
He did this that your sins would be forgiven. That you would be his own and live under him in his Kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.
We also confess in the words of the catechism that on the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
We believe this. We confess this great victory. We say this is most certainly true. But you know, and I know, that life is not always Easter morning. The blast of trumpets, the smell of Easter lilies. How about the smell of Easter breakfast - you don’t get that every morning. Alleluias are not always sung. For even though we’ve died to sin and live a new life in Jesus’ resurrection, through baptism, we still carry around this sinful flesh. It’s not always Easter joy – but sometimes Easter fear – even Easter unbelief.
Hear this morning’s Gospel text: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. 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 any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
There is much to preach on here with Jesus’ resurrection, the spiritual condition of the disciples, and especially with Thomas. But I want to focus on the clear, plain words of Jesus on this Easter afternoon. Please notice what Jesus doesn’t say! He doesn’t say, “Peter, how could you deny me!” He doesn’t say to the disciples, “How could you abandon me?!” He doesn’t reprimand them for their weakness. He doesn’t even chastise them for disobeying orders. Please remember they weren’t even supposed to be in Jerusalem! They were in the wrong place. They had orders to be in Galilee where he promised to meet them. They failed even in that – an assignment that should have been simple. But they were afraid for their lives, they faltered, they failed. And yet Jesus breathed not a word of this to them.
We have this phrase, “Meet them where they’re at.” The military equivalent is this: “Leave no man behind.” In other words, go to people where they are right now, have compassion, be patient and kindhearted toward them, and bring them along. Meet them where they are. Well, no one does that better than Jesus.
And the help those disciples need is not at all unlike what you need. Because you haven’t exactly been a model disciple either, have you? Your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let his love have its way with you. In fact, like those disciples, you’ve been frightened and so afraid, bolted the door of your heart, nearly shut out the Lord of Life.
But look at him, meeting those disciples and meeting us, where we’re at – in our sin – in our rebellion – in our very worst moments. He meets you where you’re at. And he doesn’t shame you. Doesn’t come to you breathing threats or reminding you what a fair-weather friend you’ve been. You know all that so well already. Rather, He comes to you in gentleness and in mercy, he stands among you, risen from the grave, and speaks those heavenly words, “Peace be with you.”
Those are words of sweet absolution. He shows his pierced hands and side, not saying, look what you’ve done to me, but rather, look what I’ve done for you. “Peace be with you,” he says, again. Those are words of perfect tranquility - perfect harmony – a sublime calm after a storm. That word of forgiveness spoken by the Risen Christ unlocked the bolted doors of their hearts that Easter afternoon. Their consciences were set at peace. At that word of forgiveness, they received a word of comfort and unshakable peace. And for that – they rejoiced and were glad.
Then the Lord gives those apostles their vocation – their calling: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” He said, “If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” We call this the Office of the Keys. It is that special authority which Christ has given to His church one earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
This means we receive that word of absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself. That’s what the catechism says. Not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
This means that you hear the word of absolution proclaimed to you, and applied to you. You’re not hearing Larson, or Wieting. You’re not hearing a Lane or a German. In the Divine Service or in individual confession and absolution on Saturday mornings, rather, you’re hearing God’s verdict toward you. A word of mercy and consolation. If a minister is unavailable to you, then grab the closest Christian you can find, and ask them to absolve you. This forgiveness, which breaks through and saves. It is to be trusted because it is God’s Word.
A very dangerous error from Roman Catholics and from our own human reason is the error of contritionism. Contrition means sorrow over sin, and terrors of the conscience, and that’s part of repentance to be sure. But Rome and our own human reason make the mistake of thinking that we are forgiven because of our contrition. That there is something meritorious about how sorry we are. In other words, if I’m sorry, if I’m really, really sorry for my sins, if I’m sorry enough, then at last, I can be forgiven. Well, be careful because that gets forgiveness all wrong!
The Lord pardons and forgives not because of the degree of how sorry you are. No, he only pardons because of his great mercy toward sinners. They are justified when they believe they are received into his favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who made satisfaction for them all.
If you struggle to live constantly in this word of forgiveness, join the club. The accusations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh wage constant war against those words of absolution. That axis of evil wants to turn that word of forgiveness on its head, mix everything up, and put all emphasis back on you to get things right with God.
Easter however puts everything in the proper order, because we see so clearly that Christ has done it all. And I mean everything! Paid for sins, ransacked hell, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. He’s done it all – and the victory is simply there – offered to you for the taking.
Let all your doubts, fears, and sorrows dissipate and fly away this morning. And hear against God’s judgment, that your sins are forgiven. That peace is secured. That in those hands and pierced side you have proof of God’s love. You have his divine approval.
Like Thomas draw near to meet the Risen Christ. He’s met you where you’re at. He’s come to you in mercy. Therefore, throw yourselves on your knees, and reach out for his body. Put out your hand and tip the chalice of his blood toward your lips. And with Thomas, confess, “My Lord and My God.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Almighty God, You brought us up out of the Egypt of hell and into the Zion of Christ’s Church through the Red Sea of the baptismal font. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit, that as we continue to wend our way through the wilderness of this sinful world, we would long for the pure spiritual milk of Your Word and receive the sustenance we need, until we are brought to the Promised Land of the life of the world to come. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious God, Your Son appeared to His disciples in His resurrected flesh to ordain them and to send them out into the world, that repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name. Continue to raise up for us faithful men to serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry, and bless their service among Your people who, with St. Thomas, confess Jesus as their Lord and God. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving God, You sent Your Son to proclaim liberty to the captives, and You delivered the apostles from imprisonment according to Your will. Remember those who are imprisoned or held captive, whether justly or unjustly. Deliver them according to Your wisdom and mercy, and grant that they might hear Your Word and rejoice with penitent hearts that they are set free from sin, death and the devil. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful God, remember those who have wandered from the household of faith. Faithful to Your promises, work all things in their lives to remind them of their need for Your unending grace and steadfast love, that they might return to the faith and rejoice in Your Son who has died and is risen for them. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty God, we thank you for all the years that you have sustained your servant, Lou Gabriel. Bless him today, as he celebrates his 90th birthday, that he would remember your loving kindnesses, and that even as his strength wanes, he would find perfect peace and comfort in all your promises. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious God, comfort all those who mourn the death of Lois Johnson. We thank you for the gift of holy baptism and the spiritual nourishment that you have provided her. Grant comfort and peace to her family, friends, and to all of us, being confident that everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world and that, believing that Jesus is the Christ, they have life in His name. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving God, as Your risen Son visited His disciples on the eighth day of the resurrection, so He visits us here in His Holy Church when we are gathered together in His name. Bless those who come to receive Him at the holy altar this day. Open their mouths, that they would be filled with the sweet honey of Christ’s body and blood, for the forgiveness of theirs sins. Preserve them in the faith, that they might, together with all the saints who have gone before them, be raised to live forever in Christ’s kingdom, which has no end. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.