Christ’s Words, Wounds, And Gifts

John 20:19-31 (4/12/15)

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

John 20:21-23  Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  The joy of Easter is so great, the victory so decisive, the implications so awesome, that a single Sunday cannot fully embrace all that the resurrection of Jesus has to give us.  That’s why the Easter season is not just one Sunday, but a full seven Sundays, a week of Sundays in which to bask in the glory of Christ’s victory over sin and death.  Christ has risen from the dead, and we do not tire of hearing that.

Last Sunday the focus was on the open, empty tomb, a monument to Jesus’ victory where death is swallowed up in victory.  Every skeptic, every agnostic, every would-be follower, every seeker of the truth must confront the plain fact that Christ’s tomb was empty; there was no body.  The women went to the tomb expecting to find a body, but what they found instead was an empty tomb and angels preaching the good news, “He is not here. He is risen!”  Even today, the unbelieving world would love for archaeologists to find the body of Jesus and put an end to this Christian claim once and for all.  They would love to take away the resurrection of the body rendering everything else meaningless.

But still, an empty tomb isn’t the clincher.  It can be explained away, or ignored.  Even the disciples didn’t believe the news at first.  They thought it was nonsense, until they saw the risen Christ.  Thomas didn’t believe it either.  He said, “Show me a risen Jesus with nail marks in his hands and a spear mark in his side, and let me touch him, and then I’ll believe.”

And what about us, we who do not see, we who cannot see, and yet are called to believe that Jesus Christ is risen?  We have the words of Jesus – words of blessing from the One who was crucified and now lives, words from Him who conquered death by dying, who says to us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  When Jesus said that He was speaking about you and me.  “Blessed are you who have not seen Me, and yet believe that I died and rose.”

We are truly blessed.  We are not able to see Jesus, and that’s good, because to see Him in His glory as He now is at the right hand of God would be devastating for us.  But we are blessed by His words – words that bring peace and forgiveness and faith.  And we have His wounds – the tokens of His Sacrifice, the means by which He makes Himself known to us.  His words and His wounds are His Easter gift to His disciples and to us.

The disciples were locked up in a room on that first Easter Sunday.  It was near sunset, late in the afternoon.  Rumors of resurrection were all around them.  They were filled with fear rather than joy: fear of the Jews, and fear of their own death.  Since Jesus was killed, what would those who killed Him do to His followers?  And into that prison house of fear Jesus comes.  He doesn’t knock on the locked doors.  He doesn’t wait for someone to open the doors and invite Him in.  Jesus simply appears in their midst.  He’s been there all along, but now He makes His presence known.

His first words deliver peace. “Peace be with you.”  This isn’t an idle wish. This is real, concrete peace, spoken by the Prince of Peace.  He shows them his wounds – the nail marks in His hands, the scar of the spear in His side.  His is a peace that the world cannot give.

Wherever Jesus is with His words and His wounds, there is plenty of peace to go around.  Sin is atoned for; death is conquered, and peace is given.  Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, is your peace.  See His wounds, the marks of His death – the death He endured in order to save you.  Rejoice in those wounds.  Recall the water and the blood that flowed from His sword-pierced side.  They are His sacraments of peace and life and salvation poured out for you.  They are there for you in the font of Holy Baptism (water), in the chalice of His Supper (blood), as real as the Jesus in the upper room on that first Easter evening.  Real words, real wounds – “My body given for you.  My blood shed for you -“ from a real and resurrected Jesus.

When Jesus comes and gives His peace, fear is overcome by joy.  John tells us that “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”  And who wouldn’t be?  The Easter news is true.  The Lord is risen!  How great their joy must have been!  To see His wounds, to hear His words, to be filled with His peace.  That is Easter!

Again, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  The first time was to quiet their fear, to turn their sorrow into gladness.  This time it is peace for others, to move their feet out of their little locked room and out into the world.  “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  Jesus was the Apostle of the Father, sent by His Father.  To receive Jesus was to receive the Father who sent Him.  To reject Jesus was to reject the Father.  Now Jesus sends His apostles to speak His peace “in His stead and by His command.”

He breathes on them, and speaks His words into them.  His words are Spirit and they deliver what they say.  Without the Holy Spirit, the disciples cannot do what Jesus is sending them to do.  And what does He send them to do? “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

This is their ordination, their sending with authority.  With His breath and His words, Jesus authorizes them to do what God alone can do – forgive and retain sin.  Who are these mere men, these sinners that they can forgive and retain sin?  We do not look at who they are, we look only on the One who sends them, who breathes on them, who gives them His Word and Spirit.

Jesus sends them with His own authority, the authority which the Father had sent Him.  The word “apostle” (“apostello” in Greek) means one who is sent with the authority of another.  Jesus binds His mouth to their mouths, His word to their words, His breath to their breath, His Spirit to their spirit.  Their forgiveness was His forgiveness.

What about us here today?  The apostles who were in the upper room that day now rest in their graves.  Did the forgiveness they were given to speak die with them?  Did Jesus’ breath and words continue only with that first generation of apostles?  What do these words of Jesus mean for us here today in Niwot?

The small catechism rightly understands these words of Christ as instituting what we call the “office of the keys” or the office of the holy ministry.  What do we believe according to these words?  This is our confession: I believe that, when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation, and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself.

Our Lutheran fathers understood these words in the same way as the early church did, namely, that Jesus not only sends out a group of apostles, he also creates an office within His Church that makes His words, His wounds, His peace, and His forgiveness present and delivered.  Every pastor in his own congregation speaks with the very breath and authority of the Risen Christ when it comes to dealing with sin.  Every ordination echoes that first Easter Sunday in the locked room when the risen Christ breathed on a fearful band of disciples and sent them as His apostles to forgive and to retain sin.  Pastors do not represent themselves when they administer Christ’s Word and sacraments; they speak and act in the stead and by the command and with the authority of the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ who sent them through His Church and has promised to be present in their ministry.

What a timely word this is for us today!  We live in a very confused time, a time when the Church and her pastors seem confused about their mission.  In many places the Office of the Holy Ministry has become nothing more than the CEO of a company who works at the behest of the majority stockholders, and pastors are hired or fired on the basis of numerical growth or the lack of it.

In the midst of this confused and demonic view of the highest Office in the Church, there is great comfort in Christ’s institution of this Office for all who desire forgiveness and peace, for all who seek peace and resurrection.  God doesn’t leave us fishing around for forgiveness; He doesn’t leave us searching for peace.  He doesn’t leave it up to the whim or the mood of someone to preach forgiveness.

No, He locates forgiveness and peace where it can be found and received – in the mouths of Peter, James, and John, and the pastors who would succeed them.  He puts men under holy orders to preach forgiveness in His Name, to bring sin under the lordship of His death and resurrection, to proclaim His word and show forth His wounds in season and out of season, when it is fruitful and when it isn’t, when the churches are packed and when they are not, when the pastors feel like it and when they don’t.

Jesus has ensured that His forgiveness would be heard in His Church, for without His forgiveness, there can be no communion with God, no prayer, no praise, no thanksgiving, no Church.

For us here today it means that Easter is not just one day, a long, long time ago.  Nor is it one day a year, when we celebrate an historic event in Jerusalem.  Easter continues and the gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection are distributed whenever and wherever people are being baptized into Christ’s death, whenever and wherever sins are forgiven in the stead and by the command of Christ, whenever and wherever the baptized are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ.  In short, wherever and whenever the words and wounds of Jesus are, there the gifts of Easter come to us.

Jesus Christ is alive, He is not dead.  He is present, not absent.  And in the power of His resurrection, He is present with us in the fullness of His divinity and His humanity.  Locked doors could not keep Him out.  Nothing can.  He is present among us as surely and as fully as He was with the disciples in the locked room on that first Easter.  He is here with us to free us from our fears, to speak His peace into our hearts, to forgive our sins, to turn our sorrow into gladness, and to bless us.

So, blessed are you.  You have not seen Him, but you believe in Him.  You have not seen Him, but you have been born and bathed in His baptism, you have heard His forgiveness, you will taste His Supper.  His gifts are for you.

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.