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2024-01-03 Easter 2

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

We are still celebrating our victorious Lord Jesus Risen from the dead as it is meet, right and salutary so to do during the season of Easter and in fact, all the time. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! The stone was rolled away from the tomb and the crucified Messiah was gone! It has all the makings of a good story, a tall tale, a fake-news fabrication. But as much as we make a big deal about our Lord’s resurrection needing to be received by faith, the Bible also makes a big deal about how much proof there was that it really and truly happened. I talked about this quite a bit last Sunday. The tomb was empty, the grave clothes were there folded neatly - but this doesn’t really prove that Christ was risen. If this was the only evidence, then it might well have been a conspiracy. It’s not enough to clinch the case.

But this is where the eye-witness accounts of our Lord’s appearances come into play. The disciples didn’t go on Facebook and claim that Jesus rose from the dead, they stated it as fact. Eye witnesses giving their testimony to the truth. Not only did the women and the 11 disciples see Jesus, they talked with Jesus, they touched Him, they ate fish with Him. St. Paul even says that 500 people at one time saw Him risen from the dead. This is where an overwhelming abundance of proof comes into play to assure us and the world that the prophecies of old had finally come to fruition. Christ was crucified, died and was buried for the sins of the world. But now, He is certainly risen.

Jesus first appeared to His inner core of disciples late in the afternoon of that first Easter Sunday, the first day of the week. The disciples were all together in a single room, perhaps in the upper room of three days before. The doors were bolted shut out of fear. The disciples were afraid of the religious authorities, figuring they were successful in crucifying Jesus, now they would come after His followers. This was hardly a group of guys trying to get their story straight before they go public with their claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. This was a frightened group of followers whose leader had been brutally killed! These people left everything to follow Jesus - their homes, their livelihood, their safety and security. And now, they had nothing. The authorities were gunning for them. They were scared. Who wouldn’t be? I would. So would you.

Into this locked room of frightened and scared disciples, Jesus appears. Notice, He doesn’t knock on the door. It probably wouldn’t have worked if He had. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Jesus. Jesus who?! Quick, Peter, bolt the door, its probably the JWs or the Mormons come to prey on our grief! We quickly see that locked doors don’t matter to the resurrected Jesus. Now that He is glorified and the work of redemption is done, He doesn’t restrain His divine nature like He did during His ministry. He can make His presence known when, where, and how He chooses. And so, He suddenly appears in the midst of the disciples, probably further scaring the daylights out of them!

We notice the first words that He speaks are the first blessing of the resurrection. Peace. “Peace be with you” (JN 20:19). It’s a lovely, albeit elusive word. We pray for peace in the world, peace in our homes and neighbourhoods, peace in our hearts. Peace means the absence of warfare, the end of all the killing and terror. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” which is an even bigger word than our word “peace.” It’s a double greeting, used for hello and goodbye. Shalom means harmony, wholeness, everything in its place. Way back in John 14 Jesus talked about it: “Peace (Shalom) I leave with you, my peace (my Shalom) I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27).

Peace be with you. Shalom. That’s how we greet each other that way around here. Not as the world greets each other, with a simple “Hi, how are you?” Instead it’s a blessing and a greeting at the same time. Peace be with you. We say it to each other before we process our offerings to the altar. Jesus warned about being at peace with your brother or sister before you make your offering to God. You can’t claim peace with God and be at war with one other. And so we speak a word that goes beyond our understanding, and sometimes even our will – peace, shalom.

The peace of the Lord be with you always. We hear this peace every week in our liturgy before we receive the Lord’s Supper. In the same way that Jesus appears miraculously in the midst of the disciples, He comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This eternal Easter blessing is with us always - peace be with you. The church becomes the upper room, filled with frightened or sometimes distracted disciples. And while our church doors aren’t locked, they very well could be in the not too distant future if things keep going the way they are. As religious freedoms continue to erode in Canada, we may find ourselves like many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, gathering together behind locked doors fearing persecution for our Lord’s peace.

But our Lord’s peace is the peace the world cannot take away. The same Jesus comes to us, to His church wherever it’s gathered in His Name. He comes with His peace. On the first Easter Sunday, and one week later, He showed His wounds – the nail marks in His hands, the spear mark in His side - the source of the peace. “By His wounds, we are healed” the scriptures say. This isn’t some peace brokered at a round table by high level government officials. This isn’t a peace enforced by the threat of war. This is peace from the Prince of Peace, who laid down His life to make peace, to reconcile the world to God. In the wounds of His death, in the nail holes in His hands and feet, is our shalom, our peace. The end of the war, the end of the killing and dying, harmony, wholeness, health, life are in marks where the nails had been.

The same Jesus who was nailed to a cross and pierced by a spear is alive and well! The Lamb Who was slain, lives, and He has the wounds to prove it. This is the proof that Thomas wanted to see. Can we blame him? He wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when our Lord appeared. So forever he is known in the church at his worst moment - “doubting Thomas.” A nickname that has stuck for over 2000 years! But the Gospel never calls him that. Instead he’s called Thomas Didymus, the Twin, but he’s never called “doubting.” Unbelieving, but not doubting. He says it flat out, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (JN 20:25). He wants to be sure it’s the right Jesus. It can’t be an imposter Jesus. It must be the crucified Jesus. He wants the Jesus with the nail holes in Him. And our Lord Jesus graciously accommodates him. He says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe!” And Thomas does exactly that! He believes, and He confesses in what is the most flat out confession of faith in Jesus we have in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas shouts!

What Jesus did for Thomas that Sunday, He does for us every Sunday. He speaks His peace, and He presents His wounds – His body and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice. Those are the wounds of Christ for you. His own body given as bread to eat. His own blood given as wine to drink. And He says to us, as He did to Thomas, ‘Don’t be unbelieving any longer. Trust me. I died for you, to take away all of your sins. I rose from the dead for you, to show my victory over sin and death. I give you my peace, my shalom, a peace you can find nowhere else in this world. And to give you something concrete and real, as real as my hands and feet and side, I give you my body and my blood as your food and drink.’

Jesus’ peace and His wounds – those are the first two gifts of the resurrection. And there are more. There’s always more with Jesus. Again He says, “Peace be with you.” Once wasn’t enough. He has to say it again. In Christ we have more of God’s peace than we could possibly need for ourselves alone. We get enough peace to pass on to others. And the peace doesn’t stop there. A bonus blessing, an Easter beatitude from Jesus to you. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (JN 20:29). You can’t see Jesus with your eyes, but you can hear His Word. You can’t touch His wounds, but you can eat and drink His body and blood. You don’t see now, but you will soon. For now you must believe with faith, trusting and taking Jesus at His Word. And there is no surer Word than the Word of Jesus! For Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

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