Sermon

Easter 2 B 2021  

John 20:19-22, 26 ‘Fear and Peace’

    On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you.” [20] When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. [21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit….    [26] Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace to you.”

In the Name + of Jesus

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews…

            The prevailing word of the past year, I think, is fear.  We are already into year two of pandemic fear.  Fear has been transmitted by concerned medical officers, who continue to give models of way–too-many cases, over-packed ICU’s, and variants of concern that ought to concern you. Fear that vaccines are losing the race to those variants.   Fear has been disseminated through big time economists and small business owners, who warn of the hardship that many are facing now, and will continue to face, due to the loss of employment in these painful months of opening up and shutting down. Fear underlines the alarms of many mental health professionals, who lament what is happening to our minds and spirits as well as to our bodies. Fear is utilizedto try to get the citizens of this province to follow lockdown orders and to obey public mandates. 

            Pretty much every time I open up news on the computer, the prevailing message is that I should be afraid.  And that’s alongside the fears I face in my own home, with cancer concerns.  That’s alongside the fear you face in your own life, for a multitude of reasons.

            Much of this fear is not unfounded.  The pandemic is real.  Job loss is real.  Variants of concern are real.  Sickness and dying are real.  Mental suffering is real. The fear is real…

            I could tell you – in response to your fear – that you should have more faith.  You should trust God more.  You should be more courageous in Him.  If I told you thatyou should probably throw something at me, accuse me of false teaching, which that is, or at least just turn off this video right now.  

            Fear is not simply the opposite of faith.  And to tell someone to be more trusting, to have more faith, is just going to give them another reason to fear, namely: my faith isn’t strong enough!

            Those blessed women whom we joined last week in St. Mark’s Gospel, who went to the tomb at the first light of the first day of the week in order to anoint properly the body, the corpse, of their Lord and Master and Friend – those women were not faith-less.  They were faithful women, more faithful than their male counterparts if you think about it.  But after finding the tomb empty, after hearing the announcement of the young-man-angel that Jesus was risen, they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)  Faithful folks have fears too, you know.

            Hopeful folks have fears as well.  You can hope, even hope in Jesus, and still be afraid: afraid of what you may go through, afraid of the bad news you will know along the way, afraid of being judged, afraid of failing, afraid even of Jesus, that you might ‘let Him down’.  Hope and fear can be found in the same breath too….

            We know from St. John that some of those women eventually did get the news to the disciples that first Easter Day.  Peter and John made a run for the tomb and found what they said to be true.  And John says that when he went in, he saw and believed. His hope was lifted up, a bit.

            Still, that night, and the night again a week later, those very disciples of the risen Jesus were huddled together in a roomthe doors being locked…for fear of the Jews…

            Their fears were not unfounded.  (We like it when our fears prove to be unfounded, when after the fact we find out it wasn’t as bad as we thought, when we can say we were afraid for no reason) But the disciples had reason to fear.  Jesus had been led by mob and chief priest and governor to a disgraceful death on the cross just a few days before.  Jesus had warned them the night before that to expect the same: A servant is not greater than his Master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they thought they could slip by unnoticed, Peter had already learned that laying low would not be easy.  

            And that fear did not prove to be unfounded.  Eventually, all but one of these men were martyred – put to death for following and proclaiming Jesus.  James, the brother of John, who was hiding in that room in those Easter days, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa, a Jewish king.  The rest would follow in other ways.

            We should note that the Jews whom the disciples feared are not all the Jews.  St. John is not anti-Semitic.  All the disciples in that room are Jews.  They are afraid of the chief priests and the elders – the Sanhedrin that had convicted and condemned Jesus to death.  They feared those who had the most power to lose from these un-powerful men in the locked up room.  

            And we can add this: They were also afraid of THE Jew.   That is, in some way they were afraid of Jesus.  One of their own had betrayed Him, and they didn’t stop him.  They all ran away from Jesus in His need in the garden.  Peter yelled out three times that he didn’t even know Jesus; and Jesus heard that.  They had a lot of guilt on their plate that was mixed in with their fear.  If Jesus really was alive, what was He going to do with them?  To them?…..

            Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you.”

            Peace to you.  Here in the mouth of Jesus, there is no rebuke, no ‘you should have known better’, no ‘why are you a bunch of scared-y cats’.  There’s no rebuke of their running away on the night He was betrayed.  There’s no rebuke of Peter’s denial of his dearest Friend.  There’s not even a rebuke of their fearfulness. 

            Yet fear itself is rebuked, sent away, overcome, by this one word: PEACE.  Peace – Shalom – this Hebrew greeting is not a flippant ‘Hi’ (like: I surprised you).  No, this peace sums up everything Jesus has done, fulfilled, finished, all that He brings, and brings again and again, as the risen Rabbi.  All that was lost in Eden, in the sin of Adam and Eve, is restored.  All that is lost in our world, in our global calamity and in our personal disasters, is restored. 

            Chiefly, the hostility between all people and the one true God has been overcome.  Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took our place, bridged the gap, paid the price, made the sacrifice that that covers the world.  

            You see, Jesus’ rising from the dead is not necessarily good news by itself.  His appearance to His disciples could inspire more fear!  Think of all the times Jesus had to tell them ‘Do not be afraid’. Those doors were locked for safety, even though they could not keep anyone safe.  Jesus is not ‘safe’; He is good.  So Jesus came and stood among them.  Locked doors don’t stop Jesus. For that matter, locked ears don’t stop Jesus; locked hearts don’t stop Jesus.  This Man is the Son of God.  All the power of the eternal God rests in His human frame. 

Behind locked doors is where we think we are safe.  But whether we think we are ‘in control’ because we’ve locked the doors, or stay there for fear of what’s outside, Jesus still comes in.  He reigns at God’s right hand; God’s right hand is everywhere.  There is no place that Jesus cannot go, cannot be. 

But that’s not our comfort.  

Our comfort is that He comes with PeaceJesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you.” And saying this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus shows His hands and side, the places of the nail and spear, the signs of His crucified love.  It is in these, with these, that His peace is given.  The gladness of the disciples is that this Man Who is raised from the dead and standing before them is the same Lord Who loved them all along, the same Lord Who has purchased and won us to be His own with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  In His holy wounds is our peace. 

Ultimately, fear comes from the law.  In the law we see our sinfulness, our brokenness, our hopelessness.  That’s why Jesus taught us: do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him Who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28) If there is One to fear, it is God.

But the release from fear is in the Gospel: Peace to you. The Good News is not just in the Divine power shown in the resurrection of Jesus.  The Good News is that He came in the flesh for grace, that He was raised in the flesh FOR US.  Jesus came into the locked room with forgiveness.  He came bearing not a grudge, but His gifts.  Jesus came to bring His peace.  

And Jesus still comes to bring His peace – the peace of sins forgiven, and our rising with Him forever promised.  Already on the night He was betrayed, Jesus promised: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)  Jesus’ peace is not dependent on how things look, or on how things are.  His peace flows from His finished work on the cross and from His rising from the dead. 

            As we sang in the Introit today, we are always like newborn babes.  We will always have fears in this life, in this age, until the end.  But as those baptized by the Living Jesus, baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, we will continue to long for the pure spiritual milk of His saving grace in His saving Word.  Only in Him do we have peace.   

            I would like to say that you have nothing to fear, but that would not be true. Like those Easter disciples, we have our doors locked for a reason.  Yet in the midst of our fears, Jesus is here, announcing and bringing His peace, the peace that goes way past our understanding, the peace between us and God for His sake.

            Jesus’ peace in full and eternal measure will be brought to us when at last He stands in our locked-door world at His coming in glory; and all that is cause for fear – including our sin and our guilt – is cast in the pit forever.  Then, by His promise, we will dwell with Him in His kingdom of peace forever.  

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!