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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2024

John 20:19-31

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

What do you think of when you think of “peace?”

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is global politics. We long for peace in Ukraine. We long for peace in the Middle East. We think of peace primarily as the absence of war, the cessation of hostilities, the laying down of arms, the end of fighting. We rightfully pray for peace between and within nations.

If we don’t think of peace in political terms, we often think of it instead in psychological terms. Peace, in this framework, is similar to tranquility or calmness. Peace is what The Eagles sang about in their 1972 hit, “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” It is a feeling. It includes a quiet mind and a relaxed body. It is how someone might feel while soaking in a hot tub, or when they are deep into their second glass of wine.

These aren’t wrong definitions. “Peace” is a multifaceted word. It means lots of different things depending on context.

“Peace” was the first word Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection. On the evening of the first Easter, Jesus appeared to them. “Peace be with you,” he said to them. He came back the next Sunday too, a week later, just as we are meeting a week after Easter here today, and again, his first words were, “Peace be with you.” What did Jesus mean? What exactly is this peace?

The Hebrew word is shalom, and it is just as multifaceted as the English word peace. It can be a casual greeting. If you go to Israel today, or to any Jewish community anywhere in the world, you will hear Jewish people greeting each other with the words shalom aleichem, which means, “peace be upon you.” The common response is aleichem shalom, which means, “upon you, peace.” It can be as simple and common as people saying, “Good morning,” or “Have a nice day.”

But the context in which Jesus uses this greeting is fraught with much, much deeper significance. When the risen Lord Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” to his disciples after his resurrection, this was much more than a casual greeting. You see, the word shalom, or peace, can also refer to a reordering of things, or a repair. It can refer to a realignment, to a restored relationship.

Pastor Dan Erlander of blessed memory once shared a story from one of his trips to Israel. The car he rented had some engine trouble, so he pulled into a mechanic. The mechanic got under the hood and started making adjustments. He swapped out a spark plug and tweaked the carburetor. When the engine started humming smoothly, he looked up at the pastor from under the hood, smiled, and said, “ah, shalom!” Here the word was used to describe restoration. Everything was right again. Everything was rightly ordered. Everything was aligned, restored to right relationship.

When Jesus greeted the disciples with the words, “Peace be with you,” he wasn’t just saying, “Hey guys, what’s up?” This was not merely a greeting; it was a proclamation. Jesus was assuring them that they were in right relationship with him. Jesus was telling them that everything was now right again. His resurrection meant that everything had been fixed, everything had been restored. With these words, “Peace be with you,” Jesus wasn’t just saying “Good evening, bros!” He was giving them a new life.

This peace Jesus proclaimed gave them a life beyond their sin, beyond their failures. This is no small thing. The disciples had just failed Jesus in some profound ways. They all deserted Christ. While Peter denied Jesus publicly and repeatedly, they all denied him in their own way. They all either doubted or forgot his promises. Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be arrested and crucified and then be raised on the third day, but when the third day came, even after the women told them they had seen the risen Lord, they weren’t anticipating anything he had promised. They weren’t watching for him to come out of the tomb. They were huddled together behind locked doors.

You wouldn’t blame Jesus one bit if, when he appeared to these disciples, his first words had been, “Really guys? Did you not listen to anything I said?” You wouldn’t blame Jesus if he balled them out a little bit, right?

But no. The first word Jesus had for these failed disciples is, “Peace be with you.” This is akin to saying, “All is well.” At its heart, these words are words of forgiveness. They are words of restoration. We know this from the fact that Jesus immediately goes on to tell them to go and do the same. He tasks them with going out into the world to forgive sins in his name.

This is what the resurrection has accomplished. It has brought about the forgiveness of sin. It has restored sinners to a right relationship with God, beginning with the disciples and continuing to this very day as his word of forgiveness is announced to us. This is what peace means. It means our relationship with God has been reordered, it has been aligned through Christ’s saving death on the cross, it has been ratified by his resurrection, and now we are forgiven. Our relationship with God has been restored forever. It hums along now, fueled and well-lubricated by the grace and mercy of the risen Lord.

This peace Jesus proclaimed also gave them a life beyond their fear. The book of Acts is full of stories of how the disciples were transformed by the resurrection, how they were emboldened by the peace of Christ. They came out from behind those locked doors and became bold preachers and witnesses to the resurrection. Instead of hiding away behind closed doors for the rest of their lives, they went out into the world to share the Good News of the gospel, even when it meant being ostracized or persecuted or even killed, which it ultimately did for most of them. Even when their lives, their circumstances, were anything but peaceful, they had peace with God, and that was what mattered most.

This peace Jesus proclaimed gave them a life beyond their doubts too. This gospel reading is often referred to as the story of “Doubting Thomas,” which is unfair to both Thomas and to John, the gospel writer, who is trying to make the exact opposite point. It is true that Jesus is exceptionally patient with Thomas. From this we can be assured that Jesus is patient with people’s struggles to believe and to understand. We, too, should be patient with people’s doubts. We should make room for their questions and respond to them with grace. But Jesus didn’t leave Thomas in his doubts. He moved Thomas from doubt to faith. Jesus wanted Thomas to know the peace that comes from believing that he had truly risen from the dead. In the Large Catechism, Luther describes doubt as a close cousin to despair. Jesus didn’t want to leave Thomas in that confusion that leads to despair.

And so Jesus came back the following week, just for Thomas. He came to him specifically, and said, “Peace be with you.” He invited Thomas to touch him, to put his finger in his wounds. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas said. The story John is telling us is not about a Doubting Thomas, but a Confessing Thomas – a Thomas who was moved from doubts to faith in the risen Christ.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus continued. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus is talking about us! And at this point John tells us that he has written all these things so that you, the reader, you, the hearer, you, the person listening to this right now, may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

You see, through the resurrection of Jesus, you too have a new life! Even as global wars rage and countless hostilities on scales large and small continue, Christ has brought a peace into our world, and into our lives, through his resurrection. This peace is more than a feeling. Feelings come and go. This peace is not so much a state of mind as it is a state of being. It is an assurance. It is a strength that comes from being centered in his promises. His peace is a peace the world cannot give us. It is a peace which passes all understanding.

Jesus Christ has made peace between us and God. Our relationship with God has been realigned, re-ordered, and eternally restored. Your sin is forgiven, and so you can stop hiding from God. Christ has conquered sin and death, and so you don’t need to be afraid of anything anymore. These things have been written down so that you would not doubt, but believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and your God, and that through believing, you would have life in his name.

Through our risen Lord, God has ultimately fixed everything that was spiritually broken so that our lives would begin to hum with Easter hope and joy. Christ has been raised, and he bestows his peace upon you today through his living Word. As you receive it, you are given a new life. As you come to believe it, God smiles at you as his beloved child and says, “ah, shalom!”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church