Jesus’ words and His wounds make every Sunday a little Easter. With His words and His wounds, Jesus brings peace to His fearful disciples. With His words and His wounds He sends them to speak forgiveness with His own breath and Spirit. And with His words and His wounds, He reaches out to a disbelieving disciple, and to each of us gathered here this morning.
It was late afternoon of that first day of the week, the first day of the new creation when death was swallowed up in the victory of Jesus. The disciples were huddled behind locked doors, afraid, fearing that they might be next in line for crucifixion, perhaps. Or simply afraid. It had been quite a weekend. Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday, a hasty burial, a somber Sabbath, followed by daybreak rumors of the tomb being empty and Jesus’ having been seen by the women. It was enough even to make the fishermen hide behind closed doors. What next?
What’s next, of course, is Jesus, who comes and stands among them. How did He get in? Do we really need to ask such questions? There He is in all the splendor of His resurrection, and the first words from His mouth are “Peace be with you.” Do you see why I prefer that as a greeting around here? So much more than “Good morning or good evening.” “Peace be with you.” And when it’s the Lord who’s speaking peace then peace there is.
With His words, He shows them His wounds. The visible sign, the proof. His hands and feet and side. Here is the source of the peace. “By His wounds we are healed,” Isaiah said. Fear melts away; sorrow turns to joy. “The disciples rejoiced, seeing the Lord.” There is no reason to be afraid, not with the Lord in your midst. He’s the one who just conquered sin, death, devil, and the Law. What’s left to be afraid of?
Those same words, Jesus speaks to you here today. “Peace be with you.” And with His words, His wounds. Not hands, feet, and side, but His Body and His Blood, the gifts of His cross. Here is your peace and the end of all fear. He enters our locked little rooms, those places where we hide from others in fear. Our sin does that – it isolates, estranges, divides, sets us against one another. We throw the deadbolt on our lives, keeping the world away, keeping God away too. It’s Adam all over again, cowering in naked fear in the bushes, hiding.
We won’t step out, but Jesus steps in. He comes to us, as He came to those frightened disciples. He speaks His peace and shows the wounds that are our healing. That’s where the joy is – the words and wounds of Jesus. That’s where the peace that passes our understanding is – in the words and wounds of Jesus, all here for you.
And more. Again, Jesus says it, “Peace be with you.” Wasn’t once enough? Why receive forgiveness when you’ve already been forgiven? Why speak peace a second time when you’ve already said it? That’s not the faith speaks. Faith simply delights in receiving whatever the Lord has to give, and if He’s giving out double peace on Easter Sunday, that’s where I want to be.
He breathes on them, as He once breathed over the waters of creation in the beginning, as He once breathed into the nostrils of Adam turning his lifeless clay into a living being. Breath and spirit are the same word in Greek. So is wind, in case you’re thinking ahead to Pentecost. With Jesus’ breath and words comes the Holy Spirit. It’s a little Pentecost, a preview of what is coming fifty days later.
He sends them. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus is the Apostle of the Father. Apostle means one who is sent. Jesus is making His disciples into apostles, “sent ones” sent with His word and breath and Spirit. He binds His mouth to their mouths, His breath to their breath, His words to their words. “The sins you forgive are forgiven.” Absolution.
The text history of this verse is revealing. They can’t seem to agree on the tense of the verb. Is it perfect, present or future? “The sins you forgive have been forgiven, are forgiven, will be forgiven.” So which is it? Which would you rather have? Forgiveness past, present, or future? How about all three? That’s the way faith would have it – every way the Lord has to give it.
Perfect: “The sins you forgive have been forgiven,” done to death on Calvary’s cross, a done deal, nothing more to add to Jesus “it is finished.”
Present: The sins you forgive are forgiven, right here in your hearing, as we say in the Catechism, “from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven.”
Future: The sins you forgive will be forgiven, on the Last Day, “judgment day,” when the Lord appears to judge the living and the dead. So the word of forgiveness from the cross holds yesterday, today, and forever.
And, if the gift of forgiveness is refused, then “whatever you retain is retained.” Forgiveness is always rejectable, as Jesus is always rejectable. You do so at your own peril.
Out of Jesus’ death and resurrection flow apostolic ministry and apostolic church. Jesus sends His disciples as His apostles, sent for the purpose of making forgiveness audible to those who have not seen. This is why God sends pastors to His church, this is why God has a church in the first place, that forgiveness of sins would be preached and heard and believed and lived. God doesn’t care if we are entertained on Sunday, or even if we feel “spiritually uplifted” (whatever on earth that means). He wants you to hear the forgiveness of your sins in the name of Jesus and trust it and live in fearless freedom. He wants to give you something concrete and tangible to believe, something outside of your selves, namely, that Jesus died for your sins and that He was raised for your justification. He wants to speak His peace into you and to display the wounds by which you are healed.
Thomas, the “Twin” wasn’t there that first Easter Sunday. We don’t know why he wasn’t there. Maybe he was sulking, or hiding out somewhere else, locked up in his own upper room. The disciples told Thomas what they had seen and heard, but he refused to believe them. It’s not so much that he doubted. He’s very plain about it, “Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand in His side, I will not believe it.” That’s not doubt, that’s unbelief.
And so a week later, the next Sunday, the disciples are again locked up in their little room. Freedom is hard to get used to, isn’t it? They still don’t quite get it, still hiding, fearful, tentative. Like newly paroled prisoners, they’re not quite sure what to do. It’s safer to be locked up.
This time Thomas is with them. Jesus again appears out of nowhere, speaking His peace and showing them His wounds. He zeroes in on Thomas. “Go ahead, Thomas, put your finger here; see my hands. Stick out your hand and place it in my side.” (Jesus had overheard Thomas’ every unbelieving word!) Do not be unbelieving but believing. Trust me, Thomas. Trust my words to you.”
We don’t know if Thomas ever actually touched Jesus. The words of Jesus have their way. The next thing we hear is Thomas’ confession of faith. “My Lord and my God.” Much more than his eyes could have told him about Jesus.
Faith is trust in the word, not in what you see. Faith comes by hearing not by seeing. We walk by faith and not by sight. What Thomas saw was the same Jesus who had been nailed to a cross now tangibly, touchably risen from the dead. What Thomas believed was that this man named Jesus was His Lord and His God, His Creator and His Savior, the Christ and the Son of God. In a way, you and I have an advantage over Thomas and the other disciples. We have nothing to see, nothing to distract our ears. “Faith comes by hearing.” That’s why the church and her ministry have never been much to look at.
This crucified and risen Jesus, the One with the wounds, is your Lord and God too. You have not seen, and yet by the Word and Holy Spirit working through your Baptism you believe. Jesus has a word for you: “Blessed.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
You are blessed with a peace that can be found nowhere else but the words and the wounds of Him who sent to the cross to save you.
You are blessed with Jesus’ forgiveness, absolution spoken directly to you, in the stead and by the command of Jesus, His Spirit-ed words breathing life and forgiveness and peace and joy into you in your death.
You are blessed with something far, far greater than the sight or even the touch of Jesus’ hands and feet and side. His Body and His Blood. Not to investigate, like an unbelieving Thomas, but to eat and to drink trusting these are “for you.”
You are blessed with a freedom to step out of locked rooms and fearful lives and dismal unbelief to go out into the world and tell the good news of sins forgiven in the name of crucified and risenJesus, to invite all the unbelieving Thomases to come and hear for themselves.
Jesus’ words and His wounds. His forgiveness and His peace. You are blessed.
In the name of Jesus,