Third Sunday of Easter
The joy of Easter echoes today in our Gospel reading with yet another appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples. Jesus continues to give convincing proofs of his resurrection. He stands before them in the flesh. He shows his wounded hands and feet and side. He lets them see, and even touch him. And he even eats with them – something no ghost or spirit would do. He's real, and he's alive. Not a figment of their imagination, but a fulfillment of his promise to die and rise again.
Why did the disciples need to see Jesus again and again? Why wasn't it enough to see the empty tomb? Or to hear the women's report of the angels, and of the risen Christ himself? Why were they startled when he stood among them, since they'd already been “talking about these things”, that is, his appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? And even as he stood there, speaking to them, he says they are troubled, and there are doubts in their hearts!
Why do you doubt? Why do you not believe, with your whole heart, his words, his promises, his resurrection? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We want to be faithful followers, to do his will. We want to keep the commandments. But then again, we don't, really. This is the condition of all sanctified sinners, all lost and found sheep. We are the disciples. Even when we are raised from birth to hear the word and believe it, we doubt it. Even when we are taught right and wrong, from God's clear word, we muddy it up with our own custom morality. And even when Jesus makes clear and convincing promises – well, why don't we fully and completely trust him? Do you think your problems are bigger than God's ability to handle them? Do you think your sins are too great for the blood of Jesus to cover? Do you think God's too weak to carry you through even this dark, fearful hour?
Why? Jesus gently chides them, but not so much in a scolding manner as in consolation. Their faith is weak and their minds are confused. They had been through so much, and were still wrestling with fears. But they are still his disciples. And he is still their Christ. All that he did, he has done for them and for us. But he won't just walk away, or ascend into the clouds and be forgotten. He continues to speak, to comfort, and to strengthen his frail followers. Even you, even now.
He comes in peace. He says, “peace to you!” And it's more than a feeling. It's not just a sense of peace. It's a real peace – a cessation of hostility. The warfare has ended. God's not going to smite us any more. For Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. God is not our enemy any more, for Jesus is our champion - victorious over sin and death. The peace that he brings is himself – and all that he has done, including his resurrection, for us.
But it's much more than that. These are not only his words, but they are the words of Scripture. All of which has been written for our instruction, encouragement, reproof, correction, hope and comfort. The law in all its demands and accusations, but also the Gospel in all its sweet promise. All of it, all of God's word is about Christ, and it is for us. All of the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. And we could add the Gospels and Epistles and even Revelation. These are the words that point us to Christ. These are the things written, for us, about him.
So many today would make the Holy Bible into a rulebook for living, or a guideline for goodness. To others, it's perhaps a bunch of quaint stories that are probably myths and fables. Still others find only symbolism and metaphor. And for some it's simply outdated and useless. But these are not open, but closed minds. Closed to the truth. Jesus opens his disciples minds to see, to understand, to find in all of scripture the testimony about the Christ.
We believe, and we confess, that these written words are the very word of God, and they are life! John tells us, at the end of his Gospel, that these things are written that you may believe and, believing, have life in Jesus' name.
Then he opened their minds to see it. He showed them what they couldn't see on their own, in their confusion and doubt and fear. Jesus summarizes it all for us here. This is the point of all of God's word: “that the Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations...”
In other words, that Jesus died and rose for you – and that his Law and Gospel should be preached to everyone, including you.
So, sinner, repent! Turn from your sins, again, today. Confess your sins. Plan to do better. Whatever that sin is, turn away, and look to Jesus who has conquered it. Forgiveness of sins is yours, in him. Find it in his nail scarred, outstretched, but very much alive hands. Receive it in his body and blood, given and shed for you. Hear it in the words of the liturgy, the readings, the hymns, the sermon. Your sins are forgiven, in Christ, who lives!
And where there is forgiveness, there is life. They go together. Just as Jesus who rose from the dead comes to bring forgiveness, so does his forgiveness bring life to you. Death and sin go together, and they are no more. They are done. It is finished. You are made alive in baptism, renewed and reborn. You are made alive in the waters of baptism, a daily washing and regeneration. You are kept alive in the life of Christ, by his lifeblood and his living body.
The disciples were witnesses. They saw and heard. And so they were sent. We haven't seen, but we've believed. We haven't seen, but we have heard. And we too are sent, the holy apostolic church. We are sent to serve our neighbor. We are called to show mercy to the least of these. And we are called to give answer to the hope within us. And that hope is the risen Christ.
Whatever door you've locked up for fear of whomever or whatever. Whatever question you struggle with, or doubt that plagues your mind. If the cold breath of death is on your neck, or the weight of a sin is bearing down on you. Jesus says, “Peace”. For Jesus is alive. And Jesus brings forgiveness and life. Believe in him, and be blessed. Amen.