Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have heard how he crushed Satan and won salvation for all who believe His Word. This is the victory of God over all the powers of darkness. Yet The disciples are hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus has risen from the dead, but the disciples are afraid. They afraid of the Jews, they are afraid they are going to be found out, they are afraid that they have put their hope in a dead God. That is how it goes with our faith, too. It’s easy to feel good on Easter morning. The music, the readings, the beauty of the service, everything points to the wonder of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But what about later? What about after the glow of the resurrection seems to wear off? What about those times when you are alone with your sins? What about those times in your faith-life when you feel like you can get no breath, when you feel like you are choking because it just isn’t in you?
We’ve all been there. Like the disciples, our emotions as Christians ebb and flow. There are times when we feel close to God, but there are other times when we feel far away and distant, unconnected, afraid and alone. That is where the disciples were that first Easter evening. They were there with you. This is how Satan seeks to work on you. The last thing Satan wants you to believe is the connection between Easter and your faith. If He can convince you that Christ’s death and resurrection were just events from a storybook a long time ago, then Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has no meaning. That is Satan’s ploy. He seeks to convince you that you don’t believe. He is willing to lie, deceive, convince, whatever is in His power to draw you away from Christ’s words of forgiveness and life. Left to yourself, you are stuck, right there in league with Satan. But you are not left to yourself. Jesus appears in the midst of them and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus knows His disciples don’t believe in Him at that time. He knows that they are filled with unbelief and doubt. He also knows they are full of fear at the Law and that they need to hear words of comfort and hope.
So He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Notice how tender these words are in the ears of the disciples. Notice how tender these words are to you. Peace. The wall of separation between God and man was broken when Jesus burst forth from the tomb. God and man are not longer at war with each other. They are at peace. But like prisoners of war, the disciples have not heard the news. They haven’t received the fruit of Jesus’ work on the cross and in the tomb. So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” They are great words. With those words Jesus comforts you and gives you hope. Jesus died and rose again from the dead to put those words in your ears. Peace be with you. He doesn’t pummel with the Law; he doesn’t mock them or condemn for their unbelief, although I suppose the disciples deserved it, as do we. No, Jesus gives them the only thing that could actually make a difference. He gave them peace. As Jesus uses the word here, it means the same thing as forgiveness. He forgives their sins. They are gone.
But Jesus isn’t satisfied to simply forgive the sins of the eleven some 2000 years ago. No; He then gives them the peace again, and says to them: whoever sins you forgiven, they are forgiven; and whoever’s sins you hold back, they are held back. In Lutheran theology we call this the Office of the Keys. Jesus gives the Keys to the disciples, now called the Apostles or “sent-ones”. He gives them the Keys and says that their work is to forgive sins. They are to release sins, get rid of them, cast them into the depth of the sea, as far as east is from west.
That is the work of the Christian Church. That is why we gather here Sunday after Sunday. God draws you together to this house week after week so that He can say to you, “Peace be with you. I forgive you your sins.” Christ has promised to be where two or three have gathered in His name. When we separate ourselves from the communion of Saints, the Church, the bride of Christ, we miss out on the peace which His presence bestows. But in this place God puts His peace on you. He gives it to you freely, not because of any merit or worthiness on your part, but because of His great and boundless mercy. This is what the world doesn’t get about Easter. For so many, even for many Christians, Easter is about the drama or pageantry of the event. We do make a big deal about Easter, but we do so because Jesus died and rose again for us. Remember again the words from the Creed: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” God came down to earth with a purpose.
The old title for this Sunday is Quasimodogeniti, from the Introit, which begins, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word.” The power of Easter lies in the Word of God. For it is in that Word of God that all of Christ’s work on the cross and in the tomb becomes yours. God puts those words of forgiveness in your ears in holy absolution. He puts those words into your ears in pure preaching. He puts those words on your heart in Holy Baptism. And He puts those words of forgiveness in your mouth in His Holy Supper. Open wide, and God will fill you. Receive His Word with thanksgiving, for all of God’s work is now given to you, that you might have life, and have it abundantly. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.