To fearful disciples behind locked doors Jesus appears risen from the dead. The disciples were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? You would; I would too. They’d crucified their Teacher and Friend. Surely they would be next. They’d heard the news from Mary Magdalene who had seen Jesus, touched Him, heard Him. He is risen! Peter and John had investigated the tomb. Nothing there. The grave clothes were folded neatly, the head covering off to the side. Everything was in order. Clearly not the work of grave robbers.
Yet still, the disciples are locked up in this little room, afraid. Death is conquered. Jesus is risen. And still they are afraid. They knew about the resurrection of Jesus, but they hadn’t yet seen, heard, and touched Him. That makes all the difference in the world. Dead men don’t rise, ordinarily. We know that. They knew that too. They weren’t ignorant. The news seemed too good to be true.
Then Jesus appeared. No standing at the door and knocking Jesus. Who would have answered? He simply appears, as though He were there all along though not seen, as He is with us, here and now. Can’t see Him, but He’s present, in that little room and in this one, and wherever two or three are gathered in His Name.
He comes and stands among them, HIs little church of disciples. He blesses them: Peace be with you. Words that flow from His resurrected lips to their ears, giving what they say, “Peace.” Shalom. Wholeness. Everything as it ought to be. This is the first gift of the resurrection – Peace. It is a peace that comes only from Jesus, from Him who died and rose again. Only by way of death and resurrection can we have this peace, a peace that surpasses all our understanding. “Peace I leave with you, my peace a give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
With His words come also His wounds, the nail holes in His hands and feet, the spear wound in His side. Why the wounds? They mark Him as the crucified One. Had jesus appeared without wounds, we might doubt we have the right Jesus. Is it really Jesus? Or perhaps his stunt double? The wounds mark Him for certain. That’s what Thomas wanted to see. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Pretty strong statement, but then, dead men don’t ordinarily rise, so who could blame him? I’d want to see the marks too.
Jesus’ wounds are more than proof that He’s actually risen, they are the source of the peace Jesus spoke. Jesus’ peace is not some hollow, religious wish, but peace with God who has reconciled the world to Himself in the death of His Son. From those wounds come our forgiveness, our life, our salvation. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
His wounds denote the sacrifice. Here is the redemption price, the price of our freedom and forgiveness. He is the sacrificial Lamb, offered up for the sins of the world, For your sins.
Our sin is what keeps us locked up in fear. We’re afraid to talk about them, afraid to confess them, afraid to look at them in the mirror of the law. We’ve learned to cover them up under piles of excuses, self-sacrifices, religion, etc. We cover our sins under our “Sunday best,” an old trick learned from Adam and Eve who hid from God’s judgment behind self-stitched fig leaves. That’s sounds a bit silly, and it’s supposed to, because hiding from God behind anything you’ve done is utterly ridiculous and futile.
The wounds are the key. Remember what flowed from Jesus’ wounded side on the cross? Water and blood – a testimony that He was truly dead. And also a sacramental sign, that from His death flow the water to the font of your Baptism and the blood to the chalice that touches your lips. Water and Blood, Baptism and Supper, together with the Spirit these three testify to Jesus’ death for you.
Again Jesus says it. “Peace be with you.” Wouldn’t once have been enough? Not for faith. Faith never hears enough of Jesus. He is sent by the Father as the Father’s apostle, and now He sends them out of their little, locked up room into the big wide world for which He died. How will they manage, this group of fearful disciples locked up in a little room? What will propel them out the door into the world? Jesus’ breath and His words. That is the second gift of Easter- Jesus’ breath and His words. “He breathed on them.”
His breath is the Spirit which delivers His Word. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the breath of the Church that speaks the Word of Christ. You know how it is when you are out of breath. You’ve been running hard or bicycling up a hill. You can’t talk. You can barely get the words out. Words are pushed by air, breath. The Church’s breath is not her own but Christ’s, the wind of God that blows from the mouth of risen Jesus. He resuscitates His fearful disciples with the air of freedom and life. He breathes upon His Church as He did here, and as He did in a big way at Pentecost. This one is a little Pentecost, for His disciples, the eyewitnesses of His resurrection. Fifty days later, Jesus would breath out again over His church, this time bringing 3000 people to Baptism where they too received the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, the Spirit of God blew over the waters of creation and God spoke the creative Word that brings light and life. In your Baptism the Spirit of God blew over the waters of baptism, and God spoke His Word to you, joining you to Christ in His death, burial, and life. Baptism is Jesus’ breathing on you, bestowing His Spirit, raising you up from your death and sin. Just as God breathed life into Adam’s lifeless clay, so Jesus’ breaths life into His disciples and you too, in your Baptism.
“If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Jesus’ words and breath deliver forgiveness. This is the third gift of Easter – forgiveness. You don’t have to search for forgiveness from God. You don’t have to look to heaven, or in your heart. Look for the mouth and listen with your ears. Forgiveness is something spoken and heard. In the liturgy of personal confession, the pastor asks, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” My forgiveness is not going to do you a bit of eternal good. It may make peace between us, but not between you and God. Only God’s forgiveness can do that. It comes to you from Christ through His Church. The Church, as Luther once put it, is a mouth house of forgiveness. Forgiveness is spoken here, and where forgiveness, there also life and salvation.
Forgiveness is both won and received. On the cross it was won, once for all. In the hearing, it is received through faith. It is “for you.” This is why Jesus died – that you might hear forgiveness of your sins. What a gift that is! You can be certain, as sure as the voice speaking to, as though Christ were there speaking to you. It is as certain as Jesus’ word that does what it says.
The opposite is also true. “If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.” Forgiveness is a gift freely given by grace and freely received through faith in Jesus. But there is no neutral, middle ground between forgiveness and unforgiveness, as there is no middle ground between faith and unbelief. God forces no one to be forgiven. Refuse it in unrepentant unbelief, and forgiveness is withheld. But don’t blame God for that. He wants to forgive. He sent His Son to forgive. He baptized you to be forgiven.
This is as good a time as any for a little refresher from the catechism. What do we believe according to these words? “We believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinner from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
So forgiveness is not something floating about in the air, or some spiritual gas that infuses into you by some kind of osmosis. It is a concrete, real, earthy thing. Words going from a mouth to an ear by the breath and words of the Son of God who gave His life and rose again that we might hear the forgiveness of all of our sins and live in the confident freedom of God’s baptized children.
When Thomas finally got his chance to see Jesus in the flesh, to see those wounds of His crucifixion, he had nothing more to say than “My Lord and my God.” That’s a confession, not an exclamation. He believes. He trusts Jesus. The wounds show Jesus to be what He is for Thomas and for each of you hear today. Your Lord and your God who has saved you by dying and rising and who forgives you.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet, having heard, believe.
And believing, you have life in His Name.
In the name of Jesus, Amen