✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
The disciples were in a self-imposed quarantine. They were afraid of what might happen to them if they were to venture outside. To this fearful, socially distanced group, Jesus appears risen from the dead. You can’t blame the disciples for being afraid; we would have been, too. They’d seen their Teacher and Friend crucified. Surely they as Jesus’ top lieutenants would be the next targets of the authorities.
They had heard the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive; she said she had seen Him and touched Him. 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 in fear. 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, being gathered together in Jesus presence, in person, in the flesh. Dead men don’t rise, ordinarily. They weren’t ignorant. The news just seemed too good to be true.
What is it that you fear, that leaves you paralyzed and uncertain? What keeps you locked up, bolted in? It’s not just viruses and governors’ orders that do that. We fear financial troubles, losing a job, losing a relationship. We fear rejection by friends or family. We fear violence. We fear aging and losing our faculties. And so we lock ourselves into our own little safe zones–in work, in TV and social media and video games, in drinking and comfort foods, in our hobbies and constant need for entertainment and activity–whatever it is that you do to hide from your fears, from the world, and especially from God.
But Jesus breaks through such artificial barriers. The crucified One comes to the disciples in their locked room. His risen body now shares fully in the glory of His divine nature, all-powerful, omnipresent. And so locked doors are no barrier to Him. Remember the stone was rolled away from the tomb not to let Jesus out but to let the witnesses of the resurrection in. Jesus doesn’t need to knock–they wouldn’t have opened the door anyway. He simply appears, as though He was there all along though not seen–just as He is with us, here and now. You can’t see Him, but His presence is very tangible and real, in that little room and in this one, and wherever two or three are gathered in His Name.
And the very first words Jesus speaks to them after His resurrection are not words that berate them for their unbelief; they are gentle words of absolution. “Peace be with you.” That’s not just some generic greeting. Jesus’ words give what they say: calm, wholeness, forgiveness. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jesus is saying to them and to you, “It’s going to be OK. I am not here to give you vengeance but mercy. I do not hold your sins against you. They have all been paid for and answered for and put away forever. Everything is as it should be. I have reconciled you to the Father. All is well. Do not fear. Be at peace.”
With Jesus’ words come also His wounds, the nail marks in His hands and feet, the spear wound in His side. But why the wounds? The rest of His body had been restored and glorified; why keep these wounds after the resurrection? Firstly, they mark Him as the crucified One. Had Jesus appeared without wounds, there might have been doubt that it really was Jesus. Maybe it was an impostor. 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 print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Pretty strong statement, but then, dead men don’t ordinarily rise, so we probably shouldn’t point fingers at doubting Thomas.
But Jesus’ wounds are more than proof that He’s actually risen, they are the very source of the peace Jesus spoke of. From those wounds alone come our forgiveness, our life, our salvation. It is written in Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus retains the scars from His wounds, then, because that’s how we recognize Him for who He is, that’s how we know Him to be the Savior, whose glory it is to lay down His life in love for us, whose “rich wounds yet visible above” are our peace. It’s only when the disciples saw the wounds of Jesus that they knew gladness and joy.
Once more Jesus says, “Peace to you.” With His first word of peace Jesus absolved His disciples and took away their fear. Now with His second word of peace He sends them to absolve others and take away their fears. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” As Jesus was sent from the Father to speak on the Father’s behalf, so now Jesus was sending His apostles to speak on His behalf and to give out the gifts that He had just won.
And how will this group of fearful disciples manage this task? What will propel them out the door into the world? It is written, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Holy Spirit is the life-breath of the Church who enables them to speak the Word of Christ.
Jesus says to them, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” 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 of the minister and listen with your ears. Forgiveness is something spoken and heard out loud from outside of you. No self-medicating here; this isn’t some pop culture notion about forgiving yourself. Forgiveness comes from God as a gift and is simply received and believed.
So when the absolution is spoken to you, think of it as a resurrection appearance of Jesus to you. For that’s what it is. Through those whom He has sent to speak in His name, Jesus Himself is saying to you, “Peace be with you.” “I forgive you all your sins. . .”
And think of the Lord’s Supper as a resurrection appearance of Jesus, too. After all, what did Thomas do? He touched Jesus’ hands and side. Isn’t that happens when you come to the Sacrament? You touch the nail marks by receiving the body of Jesus, wounded for your salvation, risen from the dead, and fed into you to give you unconquerable life. You touch Jesus’ side by grasping the cup which contains the very blood which flowed from His side which cleanses you of all sin. Before you come forward for the Lord’s Supper, Jesus presents His wounds to you as the host and cup are lifted high and the words are spoken, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The same risen Jesus is here with His words and His wounds, so that you might confess of Him with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Blessed, then, are you who have not seen and yet have believed. For by believing you have life in Jesus’ name.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla)