Easter 1 2009

John 20:19-31

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

There is something good in an occasional mindless break from reality. Dreams can refresh us. So can fantasy escapes into fiction, video games, board games, or even crossword puzzles. Not everything has to improve us, be healthy or educational, to be good. Sometimes, it is good to stand in the back yard and think of nothing while you throw a ball for a dog.

But Easter must be more for us than that, more than simply a break, a few hours of emotional release and excitement. It must be more than simply beautiful, more than a spiritual mountaintop. Jesus lives. That is not a fantasy. It is reality. Jesus lives and creation is restored. This present life is crumbling before us, we are dying, but only to make way for the new. The resurrection of Jesus Christ not only colors all of our lives, so that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but it is that which gives us life. We are forgiven and have peace with God because Jesus lives.

Why then do the disciples doubt? Thomas’ doubt is obvious and named. He excludes himself from the gathering, from his brothers, on Easter evening. He demands proof from God. He wants to see the evidence of Jesus’ death, the print of the nails and of the spear, not in piety and awe, but because He thinks God might try to trick him. But the other apostles also doubt, not only when the Lord first appears in the upper room, where they cower in fear, but also on the Mount of Ascension in Galilee. There they fell on their faces to worship Him, but they also doubted.

Our Lord’s admonition to St. Thomas that he stop doubting is simply the admonition to stop sinning. All sin is doubt. For it doubts that God is good, that He loves us. It accuses the Lord of holding out on us, of being somehow evil, or not really understanding what we need. It seeks to take for itself what the Lord has not given. This was Adam’s sin in the garden. He thought he could see for himself what was good and he would take it. This is what we do every time we sin. We think we will find some joy, some pleasure, some satisfaction. But we never do. We often get away with it, but there is always a cost, to our souls, to our loved ones, to the world around us. We think ourselves wiser than God., better knowing that He what we like and what will be good. This is doubt. It doubts that God is good, wise, and loves us. It denies that Jesus lives.

The apostles doubt, as we doubt, because they are sinners. They are still fighting against their fallen flesh. Even when the Scriptures are opened to them and they see that all the prophecies, all the narratives, all the psalms and proverbs together speak of the Messiah who will lay down His life as a ransom and raise it up again, even when they have witnessed miracles, had the Holy Spirit breathed into them, and peace bestowed, still they doubt. They’ve had mountaintops and joy greater than ours last week, but still they doubt. They sin. They fail.

The Lord Jesus Christ, however, does not fail. He is not infected with original sin and He committed no sin. He was wrapped in the swaddling clothes of Adam’s sins in order to bear Adam’s shame. That is what He put to death. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down alongside the passover lambs in the Temple, as a Sacrifice to reconcile humanity to His Father, to declare peace on earth. Then He took up His life again. He overcame death. His soul came back into His Body and He rose. He was vindicated by the Father. His Word is true. His sacrifice on our behalf is accepted. He left the swaddling clothes, the linen cloths, meant to cover Adam’s shame, in the tomb. Adam’s shame has been removed. He needs no fig leaves of his own feeble design or the skins of animals sacrificed for him Adam’s sins are forgiven. Adam is declared righteous. Jesus is exalted and needs no clothes. He walks the earth as a man was meant to, as man was put first into the garden: naked and unashamed. That is how Jesus came into the upper room, according to His glory. He came to speak peace into those who had failed Him, on the disciples who had fled in fear and on Peter who denied Him. He did not fail, but was betrayed. He did not sin, but bore the punishment as though He had. He gave Himself over to death for sinners. He died for sinners, failures, doubters. He rose for their justification. He came to the apostles in His resurrected Body, not in anger or for vengeance because of their sins, but because they needed Him. He came to declare His love for them and to bestow the peace that He had won for them. They failed, but it did not matter. Because He did not fail. He loved them to the end and He is risen from the dead.

We celebrated the Resurrection with great joy and fanfare. Last week a visiting friend asked me in the Narthex, before the Service, “Are you going to pull all the stops?” I said, “We’re going to pull all we’ve got.” We’re going to ring every bell, sing every note, bow every knee. For Jesus has died for us, to purify and cleanse us. Jesus loves us, and Jesus lives. Because He lives, we live, and we will live forever. If it seems as though we’ve made a bit of a fuss, sobeit. We don’t gather to celebrate mundane things, but our life in Christ bestowed by grace.

Is that to say our joy has overcome all doubt? Not yet. For now we live with both. Our worship is not without fault. Our hearts are not without sin. We are the heirs of Thomas. We confess, “My Lord and My God.” We do so in sincerity and truth, while disciplining the old man in us who peppers us with doubt. Yes, we still know some fear, some pain, and we have some squeamish thoughts and doubts. Yet Jesus lives. We know that too. We confess it in much the way we stand in the cemetery with the bodies of our loved ones, and the open earth before us, and boldly say, “O Death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Our future is secured. Our present is uncertain. We live by faith. Faith sings: Jesus lives, He lives for me. We still mourn, sorrow, fear, and doubt, but we do not do any of those things as those who have no hope.

That is why we are back this week. We are here to again be absolved, forgiven, strengthened in faith and hope. We are here to put our old man in his place, to declare that Jesus lives and Hell has no hold on us. The Scriptures are opened. We are called by name. Peace is is breathed upon us. And we are joined to the risen Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have hope. Jesus lives. We have doubts, sins. We are afflicted by them. But we also have peace from God, a promise that He will see us through.

We are thankful for the times when our hearts are strangely warmed, when we are filled with joy in the Divine Service or while singing hymns. But even when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, even when we have hours to go until lunch and a stupid boss who will not leave us alone, even when our children disappoint us or our spouses fail us, the risen Lord is with us. He abides for us. We do not mourn as those who have no hope. Jesus lives. He is risen. But He is not gone. He is here where He has promised to be, for us, in Word and Sacrament. He loves us and will see us through. Jesus lives. Soon, He will bring us home. Hallelujah. Jesus lives.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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