Posted on April 20th, 2009
“Peace to you.” They are the very first words the risen Lord Jesus says to the gathered disciples on Easter evening. Something important there. “Peace to you.” Those words summarize the result of Jesus’ work. What does it mean that Jesus died? “Peace to you.” What does it mean that Jesus rose again? “Peace to you.” What now is God’s attitude to you? “Peace to you.”
It’s what everyone is searching for. World peace. Inner peace. But the fundamental condition of mankind is a lack of peace.
- We lack peace in our bodies, for we are dying.
- We lack peace in our relationships, so often filled with strife.
- We lack peace in our minds, swimming with disturbing thoughts.
- Peace between nations is tenuous, and does not last.
That great hymn, “Lord of Our Life,” prays to God for “Peace in our hearts, where sinful thoughts are raging.” The non-Christian feels no guilt or suffering on account of those raging sinful thoughts, but he still feels the effect of sin; he simply does not know how to name the problem.
Our problem is fundamentally a God-problem. God made us to be in communion with Him: in Him is life, and apart from Him we do not have life but death. Apart from Him we do not have light but darkness. Apart from Him we do not have peace, but anxiety and strife.
So man searches for some solution. Perhaps with better government, we can bring peace. Perhaps with better education, we can enlighten mankind toward peace. Perhaps by relaxing attitudes and mores on sex, we can give peace a chance. Perhaps with better religion, or no religion at all, we can finally achieve peace.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of it, experiencing peace for a moment. The good gifts of God’s creation can still be enjoyed despite the fallenness of the world. But it is fleeting and temporary. What we learn from the Word of God is that there is nothing we can do to attain, accomplish, win or gain eternal peace; and those without the law do not even realize the danger.
So when Jesus comes and says, “Peace to you,” it is far more than a greeting, or a wishful sentiment. When Jesus says, “Peace to you,” He gives it. His Word accomplishes what it says; those words deliver to you the benefits of the cross and resurrection. On Good Friday, Jesus said, “It is finished” – the things that make for our peace were accomplished. On Easter Sunday, the angel announced, “He is risen” – demonstrating that peace with God had been made, and the sentence of death no longer hangs over mankind. And on Easter evening, and again the following Sunday, Jesus came where the Church was gathered and announced it to them: “Peace to you!” What Jesus has done in His cross and resurrection is the only way to a true and lasting peace.
And if you are anything like me, you hear that incredible, amazing story and say, “I would like that – no, I need it. My life is a mess, my heart is a mess, and I often feel no peace. I know darkness, I feel sin, I have failed in so many things, I have felt depression and despair, there are those whom I have hurt and those whom I have failed to help, I am afraid of dying.” The Lord Jesus knows all of that. He experienced all the things we have, everything that is common to a human being. And just as He sought out His lost and fallen disciples to give them His peace, so has Jesus established the means to give us His peace. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus establishes the Office of the Ministry, sending out these first pastors with the job of bringing the forgiveness of sins to people. That is the way—that is the only way—that they, that we, are going to have peace. Holy absolution—when the Pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”—that is God’s declaration of peace to you.
Now that can happen anytime, anywhere. But John’s Gospel shows us a pattern that begins from the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the first Easter: the disciples were gathering together—and Jesus kept on showing up in their midst—on the first day of the week, Sunday. This pattern continues down to the present day, as the disciples of Jesus still gather on the first day of the week to remember His resurrection, hear His word, receive His peace, and be in His presence as He promised: in His body and blood.
Now our naked eyes do not see that. With our eyes we see a man whose attire is quite a few centuries out of date; we see people getting ordinary bread and a sip of wine; we see water splashed; and we have an image of a man being brutally executed as a criminal. It would be nice to have a little more to go on, something first-hand. Can it all really be true?
That was Thomas’s situation: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” We shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas. We often demonstrate a lack of faith, by our doubts and by our sins. But what we should take away from this is the compassion of Jesus. Thomas, who refuses to believe, is sought out by Jesus and shown mercy. The words of Jesus, “Peace to you,” are for Thomas. This means they are also for you and me. We do not deserve them. Our lives have demonstrated time and again that we are hard of heart, doubting, stubborn. But our Lord through His Church has sought us out, and He does not give up on you.
In the Sacred Scriptures, our Lord has given us the evidence that we need: the eyewitness testimony of what happened, that we too might believe and have life and peace. Our faith does not depend on a feeling or an experience, but on the objective truth, the history that the crucified Jesus really did rise from the dead, appearing to the disciples and to Thomas, and that in this Jesus we too may have life and peace.
So how shall we respond to this Gospel? First, when the troubles of life make us feel no peace, or when our doubts threaten our peace, or when our sins make us doubt the love of God, we must remember that God’s peace is an objective thing, not subject to the vagaries of our emotions and experiences. In repentance and faith, we run to where the Lord Jesus has put His peace – in the means of grace.
And second, receiving our Lord’s peace means we will strive to convey that peace to our neighbors; living at peace with them. Since we have peace with God, the Scripture says that, as far as it is depends on us, we should live peaceably with all people.
Christ is risen, dear friends, and the tokens of His peace He bestows to us in this wonderful Sacrament!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!