Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2020)

Easter 2 – Quasimodo Geniti (April 19, 2020)
“Fear, Doubt, and Closed Doors Can’t Stop Jesus from Breaking In” (John 20:19-31)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! [pause]
I assume you said “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”  That is the appropriate liturgical response, but I can’t hear you through the internet.
You would have also assumed that the disciples were full of joy and excitement that first night of the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, they were afraid, shut up behind closed doors.
Why was this the case?  The Gospel writer tells us it was “For fear of the Jews.”  They were afraid of the Jewish leaders who had arrested and crucified Jesus.  The disciples fully expected the same thing to happen to them since they were the well-known inner circle of disciples whom Jesus had called to follow him and learn from him for about three years.
Do you find this fear a bit strange?  Out of order?  Misplaced?  They had just heard the news that Jesus is alive.  Mary Magdalene saw him and announced to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”  Peter and “the other disciple” (probably John) saw the empty tomb.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that the women who had gone to the tomb saw and heard the angels announce the resurrection with the words, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:6; cf. Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6).  Matthew adds that soon after their angelic encounter, the women saw the risen Jesus (Matt. 28:9).  Did no one believe their testimony?  When they told the disciples what they had seen, it seemed to them “an idle tale” as Luke describes it (Luke 24:11).  In that first century world, the testimony of women was deemed unreliable … which also gives Luke’s account more credibility since he included this detail that women were the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  But no matter who was the first to see Jesus alive … well, it did seem too good to be true.  I mean, Jesus had told them several times that he would rise again.  They had seen him raise some people from the dead.  But for him to do it on his own?  Well, that seemed incredible.  So on that first Easter night, even the news of the resurrection didn’t seem to steel the disciples yet; they were still a bit dazed and confused … and afraid.
The following week there was a similar scene.  Now there is someone there who was not around that first night when Jesus appeared to them.  Why Thomas was not there we’re not told.  Maybe he was afraid, too, and figured that it would be better to hide out somewhere else rather than with the rest of the gang.  Whatever his reason was, it’s clear that Thomas was full of doubt.  When the other disciples found him during the week and told him they had seen the Lord, Thomas’ reply was “I have to see it to believe it.”  Actually, it was even more than that.  Even seeing was not good enough for him.  He wanted to physically put his hands into the wounds of Jesus.  If not, “I will never believe,” he said.
Thomas sounds very modern, doesn’t he?  Scientific.  Needing concrete, empirical proof.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with healthy skepticism.  I imagine you’ve probably given this advice to your children, “Don’t believe everything you read or hear…especially on the internet.”  But Thomas’ doubt here is more than just struggling and grappling with truth vs. untruth.  His doubt is abject unbelief.  “I will never believe.”  His trusted friends with whom he had spent three years give him their testimony of having seen the risen Jesus, and he thinks they’re either lying or nuts.
You and I are not much different than the disciples.  We have heard the good news that Jesus is alive.  We have been fed and nourished by his Word.  We are baptized.  And yet there are still things that make us afraid.
We have heard learned the Scriptures.  We have heard the Apostolic testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.  We have been given the testimony of the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts.  And yet there are times when we doubt.  Our sinful nature, as a matter of fact, is an absolute unbeliever.  The new creation that we are in Christ constantly fights with that Old Adam inside us who is afraid, who refuses to forgive those who have sinned against us, and who cannot believe “by [his] own reason or strength” or come to Jesus in faith.
And right now, we are shut up behind closed doors (for the most part).  Why? Well, for one thing, we’ve been instructed to do so to avoid getting sick or getting others sick.  But there is a measure of fear and anxiety that goes along with this.  What’s going to happen?  How long is this going to last?  Will we ever get over this?  How will we get over this?  What does this mean for our near future?  For the far-off future?  We’ve heard the story of the risen Christ, but are we bold and brave in believing in his resurrection power in the face of disease and death?  Will we be afraid to step forward in faith when the restrictions for gathering are lifted?  More important than the physical ramifications is this dilemma:  Have we locked the proverbial doors of our hearts toward someone?  Have we put barriers between us and them, in spite of the fact that God has broken down the barrier between us and him through the death of Jesus who paid the price for our sins with his blood?
But fear, doubt, and even closed doors do not stop Jesus from breaking into our lives with his peace.  Locked doors are not enough to keep the risen Christ away from his Church.  He has always been with the disciples.  He never left them.  As God, he is present everywhere.  He was with them even before he appeared to them in the Upper Room.  But then, he graciously appears to them bodily and beyond a shadow of a doubt proves his resurrection from the dead.  He appears to them on that first Sunday … and he shows up again a week later for Thomas’ sake.  He could have left Thomas in the dark as a punishment for his unbelief.  Instead, Jesus graciously appears again the next Sunday, because it was his will that Thomas’ faith be restored and that he, along with the rest of the apostles, give their eyewitness testimony to the world … to us, for our sake, so that we can be those who are blessed and believe, even though we have not seen.
Jesus is with us always … but he shows up in a very personal way every resurrection day, every Sunday.  It’s his day.  It’s the Lord’s Day, as we gather together as the Body of Christ … and when we are able to gather together to eat and drink his true Body and Blood together.  Jesus shows up … not visibly, but sacramentally.  And he breaks into our lives to break down the walls of fear and doubt and unbelief that would separate us from him. We are at peace with God because of the cross.  Notice how Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and displayed the wounds he gained, his medals of honor, the means by which he gained peace between us and God the Father.  Today, he announces his peace to us through the Word of the Gospel and the Word of Holy Absolution which he gave to his disciples when he breathed on them … and without a mask!  Jesus breathes on them, speaks his Word, and the Spirit accompanies his Word … creating new life just like the word of the prophet in the valley of dry bones.  “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says, and gives his Church the authority to forgive the sins of those who repent and to withhold forgiveness from those who refuse to repent and remain in their unbelief.
So today – on this Sunday, this Lord’s day, this day of resurrection – you have heard the Good News of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through his Word, Jesus breaks into your lives to dispel all fear and doubt.  Your sins of fear and doubt and unbelief are forgiven … and the Spirit moves us to forgive those to whom we’ve closed our doors and with whom we’ve put up walls.  He breathes his Spirit upon us and gives us new life and courage to go forth in faith, to forgive one another, and to “confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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