Easter 2B St. John, Galveston 4/11/21
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Gospel reading for this morning is easily divided into a few different parts. On the night of the first Easter, the disciples were gathered together in a room somewhere in Jerusalem, as John says, “for fear of the Jews.” Thomas, one of the twelve men that Jesus had initially chosen, wasn’t there that evening. When the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus he refused to believe them. As he said, “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.” A week later Jesus appeared to the apostles a second time. This time Thomas was there. He put his fingers into Jesus’ hands and his hand into His side and he believed. The reading ends with John telling us the whole reason he wrote his Gospel, namely, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
For our purposes this morning, I’d like to focus on the first part of the reading where the disciples were gathered together that first Easter evening in a room somewhere in Jerusalem, again, as John tells us, “for fear of the Jews.”
The whole scene is somewhat unbecoming of Christians. The apostles were afraid of an earthly enemy, in this case, the Jews, meaning the religious leaders of the day. Jesus had been arrested, tried and crucified. It seemed to the apostles that they might be the next ones to be tried and crucified.
And so, the fear that had gripped them seemed to them, and no doubt to us, quite rational and reasonable. As far as they knew, their lives were in danger. It would be quite natural to respond as they did. But Jesus had previously taught them a number of things about fear and about how much He cared for them. “Do not fear those who kill the body (He said) but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” St. Paul, who wasn’t one of the initial twelve that Jesus chose, later reminded the Christians in Rome, “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Fear comes from one of three places, our old sinful nature, the world around us, or the devil himself. Ultimately though, it is a consequence of sin, particularly as it relates to the Christian whose hope and trust are to be in God and in Him alone. Adam, you may recall, hid from God in fear after sin had broken the relationship he had with God. “They (that is, Adam and Eve) heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
“And I was afraid...and I hid myself.” Its sin and the consequent broken relationship with God that brought fear into our hearts and into our lives. No longer do we fear, love and trust in God above all things. Rather, we fear people, places and things. And beyond those things, we fear the unknown, the mysterious future, as someone once said, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
So, what is causing you to retreat, to huddle, to shut the doors against enemies, whether viruses, neighbors or fellow employees, or family members, or, perhaps, God Himself? What’s causing you to look at life dreadfully and fearfully? Oh, and by the way, how is your security system functioning? Are you standing successfully against fear, or are you losing the battle, little by little and bit by bit?
When Jesus stood among His disciples on that first Easter evening He knew immediately that they were afraid. And He knew too what they were afraid of. At other times when He saw fear in His disciples He addressed it by saying, “Fear not, or don’t be afraid.” This time though He addressed their fear in a different way. “Peace be with you (He said). It seems like an ordinary greeting, perhaps akin to our saying, “hi, how are you?” But it’s really much more than that.
There are, of course, different kinds of peace. There is peace between nations, peace between people, as well as inner peace. Jesus though spoke of a different kind of peace altogether. When Adam was afraid, when he hid in the bushes because God had come to find him, he was in need of a different sort of peace too. Sin had shattered the relationship he had with God. He no longer enjoyed being around God, or God being around him. Now he was afraid of God. He feared His displeasure and ultimately His judgment and wrath.
As is the way of man in this broken relationship with God, there is always a tendency for him to try to claw his way back to God. Even the peace that Jesus declares is twisted and corrupted, such that it is said to begin in the heart of man and not in the heart of God. A brief search of quotations over the internet regarding God and peace quickly demonstrates this very tendency. “A born-again person ought to possess unspeakable peace in the spirit (someone said).” “As we pour out our bitterness, God pours in his peace (says another).” “See in the meantime that your faith brings forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.” Perhaps the best advice regarding peace comes from the person who said, “we should have much more peace if we would not busy ourselves with the sayings and doings of others.”
When Adam was afraid of God, what he needed, what the disciples needed, what we all need, is to know that God isn’t waiting for us to perform, that He isn’t dangling peace in front of our noses waiting for us to grasp it, or to apply it in our lives. What we need to know is that He isn’t angry with us, that He doesn’t hate us, that He’s not out to get us, but that He is on our side. The peace that Jesus brought to the disciples and to you and me is based on reconciliation, it’s based on God having come into the world to pay the price for sin, to brake down the dividing wall that was put up between us and Him by our sin.
And so, the peace that Jesus gives isn’t necessarily a feeling, or even an internal calm for that matter. Oh, it may provide that to us from time to time. But our emotions and feelings are just as broken by sin as the rest of us. Since that’s true, the peace that Jesus gives comes from outside of us. It is objective because He won it for us by His death and resurrection and He declares it to us through His Word and through His body and blood given to us in Holy Communion.
The peace that Jesus gives begins the process of calming our fears because it is an objective reality. The forgiveness of our sins sets aside the barrier that has blocked us from trusting God. We live as real human beings again, people who have been freed from trusting in insufficient sources of security.
Once again we can begin to live as the people of God knowing that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For (as Paul says) I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, on this Sunday after Easter, the Risen Lord says to you once again, “Peace be with you.” God isn’t against you. He is for you. “How blessed are those who have not seen, and yet, have believed.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +