Sermon for The Second Sunday of Easter Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, Wisconsin Pastor Michael Larson 4/19/2020
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14; 1 John 5:4–10; John 20:19–31
O holy and most merciful God, You have taught us the way of Your commandments. We implore You to pour out Your grace into our hearts. Cause it to bear fruit in us that, being ever mindful of Your mercies and Your laws, we may always be directed to Your will and daily increase in love toward You and one another. Strengthen us by Your Word and Spirit, that we would not give way to fear and despair during this pandemic, but instead, remain cheerful in Your gracious promises, andO holy and most merciful God, You have taught us the way of Your commandments. We implore You to pour out Your grace into our hearts. Cause it to bear fruit in us that, being ever mindful of Your mercies and Your laws, we may always be directed to Your will and daily increase in love toward You and one another. Strengthen us by Your Word and Spirit, that we would not give way to fear and despair during this pandemic, but instead, remain cheerful in Your gracious promises, and fear nothing except losing you. Help us to live a godly life, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to walk in His steps until we shall possess the kingdom that has been prepared for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
How perfect! It’s Easter afternoon, the very day Jesus rose from the dead, and just guess what the disciples are up to? They’re all self-quarantining! They’re shut up in that upper room with the doors locked and their knees are knocking. Why? Well, they’re terrified – scared straight at the prospect of being associated with Jesus. Jesus, after all, had told them that they would indeed flee, scatter, and deny that they ever knew Him. “No. Never!” Peter had blurted out, “Even if I have to die with you, Lord, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples had vowed the very same thing. But boy did they fail! They did deny. They did flee. They sinned.
Here’s another thought to consider. Earlier that very day the women had already reported that empty tomb and the resurrected Christ to the disciples. They were supposed to run ahead with joy and meet Him in Galilee but what did they do instead? They hunkered down in the upper room, bolted, and on lock down. Nope! Not their finest moment! Not by a long shot! But, how about you put yourself in their place? Imagine you were one of His disciples who had just denied Him, fled, and scattered? What if Jesus was alive and coming back? Our Gospel this morning tells us the disciples were locked up for fear of the Jews but is it also possible they were afraid of Christ Himself? What if those women were right and He was alive? What might He have to say to these fair-weather friends of His? Where would He send them? Did not Jesus Himself say, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
We talk a lot about Easter joy on that day but how about Easter fear!? Because that’s exactly what we’ve got with those disciples on that very first Easter. All sorts of fear! Fear of isolation. Fear of judgment. Fear of death.
Dear friends of God, there is so much comfort in our Gospel this morning! First, consider this thought. Risen from the grave, our merciful Lord does not wait for His disciples to go after Him and seek Him out. He knows His chances there! No! Instead, He goes right after them, through locked doors, and through bolted hearts. He shows Himself, alive, and risen from the grave, merciful and kind. Second, consider how our dear Lord appears and greets those fair-weather friends and faltering disciples of His. “Hey, Peter I told you, you’d do it! I told you you’d all deny me and run for the hills! Some disciples you are!” No! Our kind and gracious Lord doesn’t even whisper a word of their sins. Instead, Jesus greets His disciples in the friendliest and gentlest way imaginable. There’s not a word of judgment and not even a whisper of disapproval!
How does Jesus greet His disciples at His resurrection? Well, He greets those disciples with the very same greeting that you’ve all grown accustomed to in the Divine Service! Remember when the bread and wine are consecrated and I hold up that life-giving resurrected body of our Lord and hold up that chalice of forgiving blood, and the Lord greets you with those very same words with which he greeted His disciples in our Gospel today, “the peace of the Lord be with you!”
Dear friends, we can never shrug at those words! Those are words of pure absolution, a blood-bought peace secured on Good Friday – but now delivered upon the lips of Christ Himself, that all your sins are put away, scattered as far as the east is from the west, and that God remembers them no more.
It’s easy to see those faltering disciples, Peter’s denial, their scattering, and unbelief. But how about you! What sort of bold, courageous, zealous disciple of Christ have you been lately? What sort of faithless fears have seized you! What have you done in secret – behind locked doors - the things of which you are ashamed? This morning, dear Christians, be comforted. The Lord is zealous in His love for you. He’s not waiting for you to come to Him. His love pursues you. He’s Risen from the grave. He’s beaten back death and hell, and triumphed even over your own sins – having taken them all away. And now, He’s coming after you! But not to speak a word of judgment but of pardon, and so whisper into your ears his undying love for you. The Lord greets you this morning that very same way He greets those disciples, without a single word of condemnation or judgment for you, but flowing from his lips instead words of friendship and cheerfulness! That you are accepted by God, welcomed, and approved of.
Jesus shows His disciples His hands and side, from which blood and water flowed, saying “Peace be with you.” He presents those wounds of His divine love which turns our fear to gladness and which restore us to the Father.
Now, for whatever reason that day, Thomas, one of the disciples, didn’t make it to church that first Easter, but his absence was good for our sake, that our faith would be confirmed. Because Jesus came the same way the next Sunday to bring that very same blood-bought peace. “Peace be with you, put your finger here, and see my hands, reach out and touch my side.” Thomas could only answer “My Lord and my God!”
In our skeptical age, we too have a “I’ll believe when I see it” sort of attitude so our Lord rightly directs us always to His Word, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And yet, what a great comfort, that our Lord continues to come to His people, fair-weather friends, and faltering disciples, in mercy and compassion, presenting His wounds to us in the Sacraments of water and blood. He bids us to touch His side at His table, to receive His risen body and blood in true faith, that believing we may have life in His name, and ever remain bold and fearless disciples! In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: O Sons and Daughters of the King