Peace Be With You (Confession and Office of the Keys)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus was through with suffering and death. He was raised from the dead. The tomb was empty. The women had seen Him and brought the news of the Lord’s resurrection. Despite all this—or maybe because of all this—the minds of the disciples were in a muddle. And then Jesus came into their midst. With words and wounds He identified Himself. This was no phantom or ghost, but the same Lord who was crucified on Friday. He is alive, and His presence and the sound of His voice brought peace and gladness to the disciples who had locked themselves in for fear of the Jews.
Where Jesus is, there is peace. At His birth the host of angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Having seen the infant Jesus, Simeon could bless God saying, “Lord, now You let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” On the eve of His death the Lord had promised His disciples peace, and now the Lord makes good on that promise as He says, “Peace be with you.” The Lord’s word of peace carries with it the full load of forgiveness, for God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself, making peace through the blood of His Son. The Lord’s peace means that the enmity between God and man because of sin has been bridged. That hostility was done away with as Jesus fully answered for our sins in His death. Now there is peace between God and man, heaven and earth. Jesus’ greeting of peace is a word of absolution for the disciples. By it the disciples know their sins to be forgiven. Think of what that word must have meant to Peter, who had denied the Lord! Think of what it meant to the other disciples who had run away in the garden!
A second time the Lord says to His disciples, “Peace be with you.” This time He adds, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” With the first word of peace the Lord forgives His disciples. With this second word of peace He makes them Apostles, “sent ones.” The Father sends the Son, and now the Son sends these men. And how does He send them? By His Spirit and His Word. The Lord breathes on these disciples and gives them His work to do: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Just as the Lord God had breathed the breath of life into Adam, so now He breathes life into His disciples.
The Lord’s breath and His Word are together. The Psalmist wrote, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” There can be no Word without breath, and breath without words can be just a lot of heavy breathing or grunting. But the Lord’s breath and Word gives life to His Apostles. What they received from the Lord, they have passed on to us. We are among those who have not seen and yet have believed. We have believed because we have heard the words of the Apostles—words alive with the breath of Jesus, that is, the Holy Spirit who has created faith in our hearts. It is a miracle. Thomas believed because he saw the risen Christ. We believe because we hear Christ, for, as St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
Our salvation was accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on Good Friday. When He said, “It is finished,” everything needful for our salvation had been done. But unless it is delivered to us, the results of His death and resurrection do us no good. On the basis of that atoning death, the Father declared the sins of the world to be forgiven. We receive our freedom from sin—that is, the forgiveness of sins—as that word of absolution is spoken to us. Not only has our Lord accomplished our salvation on the cross; He also delivers that Gospel to our ears through the words of His sent ones.
The Apostles are sent out with that Word, a Word that forgives and retains sins. The Lord puts that forgiveness into your ears. Our Lord says of those whom He sends, “He who hears you, hears Me.” And so we confess in the Catechism, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners 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.” Pastors do what the Apostles did: they go out with the good news of the Lord’s resurrection: “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas would not believe their word. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Thomas would see and believe. He could confess Jesus to be Lord and God. We live after the Lord’s ascension. It is not given to us to see the Lord, but we hear His voice in the preaching of His Word. By His Word, we are given faith. We believe because we have heard the Gospel. On that faith the Lord says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We need not go back to the cross and the empty tomb. Indeed, we cannot go back there. But just as the risen Lord came to His disciples on Easter evening and just as He came to Thomas a week later, He comes to us by the words which He gives His servants to speak in His stead and at His command. And by those words He gives us life in His name. 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.