First Lesson Acts 5:29-42
Second Lesson 1 Peter 1:3-9
Gospel Lesson John 20:19-31
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [John 20:19-31]
Fear … what’s it all about? What do we fear? Why do we fear? The disciples feared the Jews. They were hiding behind locked doors because they were so deathly afraid. Just picture them; silent, cowering, rapid heart rates every one. What were they thinking?
How did I get into this mess? How could it all have ended like this? How could I have been so wrong about Jesus? I thought he was the One, but they murdered him. And now the Sabbath is over and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until they find us. Maybe they won’t find us. Maybe no one saw us with him that night in the garden. It was dark. We ran really fast.
Fat chance. If only Peter hadn’t drawn his sword and cut off that man’s ear. All the attention was on Jesus until that happened; but then they were all over us. They grabbed, they tried to restrain us; and that’s why we ran away. We didn’t want to abandon Jesus, but we had to look out for ourselves. Who else would have saved us; no, we had to run. We had to get away.
If only he’d been the One like we thought he was. How could we have been so wrong? From now on I’ll be more cautious. I can’t believe I let myself get sucked into this. What am I going to do? Aagghh!
What do we fear? Why do we fear? What are you hiding behind, cowering there, silent, with your rapidly pounding heart; your mind racing a mile a minute? If you look at those questions you’re asking yourself, you’ll find you’re trying your best to formulate a plan for how you can get yourself out of the situation that makes you fear.
Where is God in all of this? Why are we so often left to fix these things on our own? We doubt. We doubt that our Lord and Savior would enter our lives or the lives of those around us; because after a long introspective Lenten Season, we know all too well that we’re sinners, unworthy of God’s love; in fact, what we’re worthy of is his temporal and eternal punishment. We question whether anyone could love us at all, let alone love us so much that they’d be willing to die for us.
Knowing what we’re made of, knowing what we hide from, brings us fear. Life has taught us to fear. We fear being looked down on. We fear being ignored. We fear not living up to the expectations of our family members, our peers at work, our boss at work; we even fear living up to our own expectations.
Lacking the power, the endurance, the confidence to do what we know we should do, we fear life itself. And fear creates doubt; doubt in ourselves, and doubt in our salvation. Just look at us … we really do have a strong connection with Jesus first disciples … and the connection isn’t a very flattering one.
So often in our lives, we’re there. We’re definitely there, with the disciples; hiding behind closed doors. So how do we deal with Jesus? How do we react when, right there in the middle of that space where we’re hiding, behind locked doors, he appears! Surely we feel our fear doubling, tripling. Our heart rate climbs even higher, and we don’t know what to do! WE DOUBTED HIM! And here he is right in front of us, alive! Here he is with us all the time, just as he promised he would be!
The very things we were so afraid of moments ago seem like nothing compared to the realization that, even as we were asking ourselves, “Where’s God in all of this?” He was there! He was listening to our thoughts! He was hearing our doubts, our disbelief, our lack of trust in him. He heard it all. Now what’s he going to do? If it’d been us who were treated like this we’d have left. We’d have turned up our noses and walked away.
But, we are Jesus’ disciples, just like those who cowered behind locked doors that first Easter night; and just as Jesus said to them, he says to us, “Peace be with you.” Just as he reassured them, he reassures us through the promises he makes to us in his holy word. Just as he forgives them, he forgives us for all those sins we just couldn’t let go of… for all the times we lost our nerve, or sat there quietly letting opportunities to witness to our Lord slip away because we doubted what would happen if we took action … because we doubted the Lord.
He could deal with us sternly, even harshly, and he would’ve been within his bounds to do so. But that’s not what he does. He deals with us by forgiving us … despite our failures, despite our doubt, despite our lack of faith and trust and understanding that come as we let our fear get the best of us.
Forgiving us … it’s the first thing he does as he enters that space where we hide from our fears. Jesus comes and stands among us and says to us, “Peace be with you.” He gives us the peace of God. He gives us forgiveness … true peace between us and God. No explanation needed. No justifying remarks required for our actions or our inactions. Forgiveness given freely and fully, completely and compassionately.
We truly resemble those first disciples. This is why God instituted sacraments for us. Christ Jesus had already made peace between God and man on the cross; but he knew that in our fear and doubt, in our guilt for the sins we know we commit, we wouldn’t believe something as sweet and gracious as his forgiveness could possibly be given … and so he gives us visible proof.
He gives us his Word in the waters of Holy Baptism, where we receive the forgiveness won for us by Christ when he sacrificed himself in our place on the cross. He gives us his Word in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion so that over, and over again, every time we come to his table loaded down with the guilt of sins we couldn’t stop ourselves from committing, we see that he means what he says. All your sins are forgiven.
Now the door is open, and we aren’t afraid to face the world. His forgiveness is the key. It wipes out fear. It makes us ready, joyfully ready, to hear him say it again, “Peace to you.” Jesus has come to us, and the first thing he does is pronounce us forgiven. He comes to us to reassure us that he’s for real; and his forgiveness is for real; and then he says to us, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
He sends us out fearlessly. In forgiving us he sends us out with this new found forgiveness that belongs to him; forgiveness that’s been there for us ever since he gave up his life for us on the cross, but forgiveness that’s still new every morning. Fresh, new forgiveness that’s ours every time we come to him asking for it. Fresh, new forgiveness given to us in abundance, overflowing, more than we’ll ever need for ourselves … because it’s not just given for us. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
This isn’t a hope or desire or a plea coming from our Savior, this is a fearless command. You’ve been given the gift of forgiveness. What did Peter say in the epistle today? You’ve been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that’s imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. And you’ve been directed by Christ himself to forgive, without fear; because if you don’t, then fear reigns … because fear reigns where forgiveness is withheld.
Think on that, my friends. Wipe out fear. You can be forgiving because Christ has forgiven you.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.
In Christ’s service,