19 April 2020                                                                       St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Easter 2                                                                                                                      Vienna, VA

 

Jesu Juva

 

“The Doors Are Now Unlocked”

Text: John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The disciples were hunkering down for fear of the Jews. The cross was empty. Their Master was dead. The tomb was empty, too. Peter and John had seen it, so had some of the women. They said Jesus was alive, risen. They wanted to believe that. They really did. To have hope. But it was all so confusing. It had all happened so fast. They didn’t know what to think. But this they did know - the Jews were still out there. And maybe emboldened, since they had gotten Pilate to knuckle under to what they wanted. Maybe now things were headed from bad to worse, though it was hard to imagine worse than this. So they hunkered down in fear of death. Together. Hoping just to make it through the night. They’d worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

 

Much the same thing is happening today. People are hunkered down in fear. Of a virus. Stores are closed. Places usually bustling with people are empty. Some say the worst is past, some say the worst is still to come. It’s all so confusing. And it all happened so fast. Not that long ago life was going on as normal. And then it wasn’t. So people are hunkered down in fear of death. Isolated. Separated. Just hoping to make it through this time.

 

Some say crises like these bring out the best in people. Some say they bring out the worst. I think we’ve seen both. There have been scammers and people taking advantage of this situation for their own good, and there have been people giving and sacrificing for others. Perhaps what is really happening is that crises like these bring out who you really are; expose what is already there inside a person, even magnifying it. The fear and insecurity; the confidence and faith.

 

Certainly in the disciples’ case, I think this is true. Confusion, uncertainty, and fear is what we’ve seen in them all along. So when we read a description like this, that they were hunkered down for fear of the Jews, we’re not really surprised. What is a surprise is what we heard of them in the first reading, from the book of Acts, where Peter and the others are not afraid of the Jews but standing up to them, defying them, and when they are beaten as Jesus was, rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Him! That’s quite a change.

 

A change that started for them that night behind those locked doors when Jesus appeared to them and said to them, Peace be with you. Peace for your troubled and fearful hearts. Peace for your confused and uncertain minds. Peace in the midst of a most unpeaceful world. A world where there is fighting and rivalry. A world where there is hatred and death. Then and now. These things go on because sin goes on. But how we respond to them now is most certainly changed. It is no longer an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24), but now love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Jesus is risen to bring forgiveness into a world of sin, and life into a world of death.

 

And that’s the very gift He gives His disciples that night. The forgiveness of their sins and the promise of life. So their hearts and minds can be at peace. And then after giving them what they need, He commissions them to unlock those doors and give it to others; to go out and do the same. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Just as Jesus came into a world of sin and death with His forgiveness and life, the disciples would now do the same, and go to those hunkered down in fear and set them free. Free in the forgiveness and life of Christ. But they would not be or do so on their own. Jesus gives them His Holy Spirit to be with them. To enliven them, strengthen them, and change them. Change them from cowering, frightened, confused disciples, to bold, confident, certain apostles.

 

And that is what has happened to you as well. For the very same Peter who denied even knowing who Jesus was and was one of those locked in that room that night, would later go on to boldly and confidently say (and as we heard): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Born again. Baptized! To a living hope in the living Jesus. A hope sure and certain. That in Christ, your sins can no longer condemn you, for they are forgiven. In Christ, your death can no longer hold you, its grip on you has been broken. In Christ, you have an inheritance in heaven, so what you have and are, here and now, is not all there is. In Christ, you are a child of God. In Christ, you have, in a sense, immunity - from the sin and death in this world. Not, of course, that you are free to sin and kill. But that when sin comes and death happens, these things can no longer harm you. Or in other words, you have been changed, and can live a changed life. You who have been raised with Christ to a new life.

 

Yes, there are still trials and struggles - viruses and troubles - that we must go through. Peter says that too. And he had his share of them. But they are sent, he says, not to destroy your faith, but to strengthen it like gold. That you turn to your Saviour in every time of need. That in the end, the result is praise and glory and honor when Jesus comes again. When you receive the inheritance Jesus has provided for you.

 

And knowing that, believing that, as I said, changes you and how you live now. A change illustrated not just by the change in the disciples we heard in the book of Acts, but even sooner than that - by the difference between the ten who were in that locked room that night, and Thomas, who wasn’t. Doubting Thomas. Skeptic Thomas. Thomas, who demanded God meet him on his terms.

 

Jesus does. Not just because He is merciful, but because Thomas is one of those twelve who will be sent out into the world to proclaim the resurrection. But Jesus does not commend him. Rather, Jesus commends you! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

 

Because the true blessing of God comes not through the eyes but through the ears. Miracles and signs and wonders show that you have a powerful God. Resurrection show you a God who couldn’t be held by death. But none of that benefits you - or at least, you don’t know that it does. For what if that powerful God uses His power against you? What if a resurrected God is back for revenge? You need to know more. You need the Word. The Word that Jesus spoke to His disciples that night. The Word He sent them to speak to you. His Word of peace.

 

His Word of peace, so when you are struggling with sin and feel its weight (like those disciples), you hear: I forgive you all your sins. What you and your sins deserve Jesus took on the cross for you. It’s on Him and not on you.

 

His Word of peace, so when you are struggling with feelings of unworthiness, confusion, and doubt (like those disciples), you hear: I baptized you. You are my child. And I do not regret it. I am your strength in weakness, your clarity in confusion, and the one you can count on.

 

His Word of peace, so when you are struggling with fear of death (like those disciples), especially in these days of pandemic, you hear: Because I live, you too will live. Death is not the end for those who die in the one who rose from the dead.

 

That is the Word those cowering disciples received and then went out and preached and poured out and fed to the people. It is the Word that changed them and changed the world. The Word that now changes you. That when faced with troubles and trials, with invisible viruses, with threats of persecution, with our own sin and unworthiness - whatever the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature can throw against us - we have what is more sure: the Word and peace of Jesus. That you know His victory, and that His victory is yours.

 

For if crises like what we are going through today bring out who you really are and expose what is already there inside a person, even magnifying it - look at what it revealed to us about Jesus. Certainly we see the greatness of sin and the horrifying spectre of death. It caused Him such turmoil in the Garden and on the cross. But even more we see His love, His steadfastness, His forgiveness, His compassion, and His glory. When faced with mocking, He loves. When faced with betrayal, He is steadfast. When faced with lies and false accusations and denials, He forgives. When faced with hatred, He has compassion. And when faced with crucifixion and humiliation, His self-sacrificing glory shines through. We never see God and what He is like more clearly than when we see Him hanging on the cross for you and me.

 

And now you, too. This time of uncertainty, confusion, and fear is when the love, forgiveness, and life of Jesus given to us can shine through as never before. For we have a God who has overcome the death that has gripped the world. We have a God who is in control of a world that looks out of control. We have a God we can count on in an uncertain and changing world. Our friends may let us down, the government may let us down, our own bodies may let us down, but our Saviour never will.

 

So what’s in you? Christ is in you. His forgiveness, love, and life and in you. And we can live that way - not just now, but always. This crisis an opportunity to bring out who you really are. Because your life is not hanging in the balance - your life is already secure in Christ. He’s unlocked the door of your fear and the door of heaven so you can live - not foolishly and carelessly - but as His blessing to others.

 

But if during this time you don’t like what you see, what this crisis brings out of you, know this: your Saviour is not disappointed in you or frowning at you! But using this time to strengthen you and your faith. For remember those disciples in that room. Jesus didn’t reprimand them when He appeared, He loved them. He didn’t scold them, He gave them what they needed. And He does for you, too. For you who need peace, He has peace. For you who need forgiveness, He has forgiveness. For you who need love, He has love. So receive what you need from Him who died and rose to provide it for you. For starting that Easter day, the doors are unlocked. The door of your heart, the door of the grave, and the door of heaven. So you, too, now go, you are free. Go, give what you have received. Go live! Not in fear, but in faith.

 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.