John 20:19-31 (Easter 2C)

St. John, Galveston, 4/24/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ 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, from John 20, is the account of two different post resurrection appearances of Jesus. The first one was the evening of the day He rose from the tomb, the first Easter in other words. On that occasion, the disciples were gathered in a room in Jerusalem, except for Thomas, who, for whatever reason missed that first Easter gathering. The second appearance occurred a week later. This time Thomas was there. He was adamant that he wouldn’t believe unless He had proof that Jesus had risen. That night, seeing Jesus, he was able to put his finger into the nail marks in Jesus’ hand and put his hand into His side and believe. 

I’ve preached on this passage many times over the years and generally the focus is on Thomas and the whole issue of him refusing to believe unless he he had proof. I suspect that we all find ourselves feeling a bit like Thomas from time to time, needing, or at least wanting to see proofs and signs, and yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though we’ve never seen Jesus’ resurrected body, we believe that He has risen from the dead and that He has defeated sin, death and the grave for the world and for us. “Blessed (Jesus says) are those who have never seen, and yet, have believed.” Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead is a central, undeniable and indispensable tenant of our faith. 

This morning though, rather than focusing on Thomas and his insistence on seeing the marks in Jesus’ body for him to believe,  I’d like to focus on the early part of the reading, Jesus’ first appearance on the night of His resurrection. Again, the disciples were all there that night, except Thomas. There are couple things in that first section that I think are important to us as we make our way through our lives as disciples of Jesus. 

The first thing I think we should take note of is the mood of the disciples, on the days immediately after Jesus was tried and crucified. John says the disciples gathered that evening in Jerusalem because they were afraid! They were afraid! Afraid of what, though!? Well, for one thing, they were afraid of the Jews. Jesus had been tried and crucified and they claimed to be His disciples. It was quite natural for them to wonder what the future might hold in store for them. Would they be the next ones to be paraded up Golgotha to be crucified? Simon Peter, remember, experienced that very same crippling fear the night that Jesus was arrested. We all know what happened, three times he denied that he even knew Jesus.  

So, the disciples were afraid of the Jews. But they were also fearful because Jesus had died. I mean, even though He had told them that He was going to be crucified and that He would rise again on the third day, they were so overcome with grief that they couldn’t quite hold on to the promise He had made. What they knew was a profound sense of loss, even of defeat. Jesus was their Lord and mentor, and He was crucified in a public display of the seeming supreme power and strength of evil over good. Life seemed hollow to them. They’re hopes for the coming kingdom of God had been crushed. And so, they were huddled together that night because they were afraid.   

Since Jesus has risen from the dead, fortunately for us, fear isn’t really something we need to talk about much, is it? I mean, we have a risen Lord, so what’s there for us to be afraid of, right!? Well, that would be case if we didn’t carry this faith given to us by God in these earthen vessels of clay. It would be the case if we were able to love God and love our neighbor enough to drive out every lingering remnant of fear. As John says elsewhere, there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” After showing us the connection between fear and love, John then took us back to the source of all true love. “We love (he says) because he (that is, Jesus) first loved us.” 

We all know that fear is a part of our experience as people of God. We acknowledge it even though we don’t encourage it, or celebrate it. At the same time, it isn’t good for us as God’s people to see fear as a fundamental deficit in our faith, a least as a deficit that we could eliminate with enough effort put in to our faith. You see, I suppose one could say “If you believed in Jesus enough, you would never fear anything.” That’s actually true, because you would then be perfected in faith. But it’s equally fair to say, “if you believed in Jesus with a faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to a mountain “move,” and it would fall into the heart of the sea.” 

We carry this gift of faith in Jesus in earthen jars of clay. Still, the fear that remains in us, that fear that we all experience from time to time, meets its proper match in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He appeared in the room that night and stood among His huddled disciples and He said to them “Peace be with you.” It’s sort of greeting, but it’s much more than that. 

There is a peace that Jesus conveyed to His disciples, and to each of us, for that matter, that merits a closer look, an exploration of, if you will. It seems to me that when we talk about peace, at least in this context, we’re thinking of an inner peace that we all want, and, to one degree or another, we all find somewhat evasive. There’s and old saying, if you “know” Jesus (k n o w), then you’ll know peace.” The problem with that general understanding of peace is that it leaves many of us wondering, at least from time to time, if we really do know Jesus. The problem with it ultimately is that it denies our old nature, and forgets that we carry our faith and trust in Christ in earthen jars of clay.

When Jesus said to His disciples “Peace be with you,” He conveyed to them a peace that really does transcend all understanding. It isn’t necessarily a constant internal peace because the Scriptures always acknowledge and recognize the battle between our old and new natures. Rather, Jesus conveyed to His disciples, even as He does to you today, a peace that is built upon, that stands on His reconciliation of the world to God through His life, death and resurrection. Paul too refers to that peace that is given to us in Christ in his letter to the Christians in Rome. “Therefore, (he says) since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Peace be with you.” God is not angry with you! God is not looking to punish you! God is not squeezing you under the weight of His Almighty hand! You have been reconciled to God! Whatever turmoil you face in life, whatever robs you of inner peace, whatever makes you anxious or upset, rest assured that, in the midst of all of it, God is at peace with you and He gives you that peace even today. It’s in the words of holy absolution, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, I forgive you all of your sins.” It’s in Holy Scripture, “Peace be with you” (He says). It’s in the preached word. It’s in His body and blood laid upon your sin parched lips, “these are given and shed FOR YOU.” It’s even in the words of departure, the benediction, “the Lord look upon you with favor, (that is, with grace), and give you PEACE.” God is not angry with you, rather, as He says to His own dear Son, so He says to you, “in you I am well pleased.” “Peace be with you.”

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 +