"Peace Be With You"
John 20:19-23

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." John 20:19-23

Itís been a whole week now since Easter, when we celebrated in front of the empty tomb and sang our Alleluias. However, the Gospel reading for this morning takes us back to last Sunday evening. At this point in the Easter story, the disciples perhaps had heard rumors of a resurrection circulating around town, but they had yet to see the risen Jesus with their very own eyes. Nor had they believed this. They were clueless as to what was going. They closed themselves in behind locked doors. They were afraid of what might happen to them. If their enemies had crucified Jesus, what would they do to his followers? Thatís what was on the forefront of their minds. I also imagine that the disciples, up to this point, were carrying around a huge load of guilt. They chickened out and left their teacher in the hands of their enemies. They left him hanging on a cross. And they might have felt it was all their fault that Jesus was killed.

Hanging their heads in shame, sitting on the edge of their seats, we can only imagine how startling it must have been to suddenly hear the voice of Jesus right over their shoulders saying, "Peace be with you." Christ knew better than to knock on the door before entering. Who would have possibly answered the door at a time like this? But it says here, according to St. John, that when the disciples saw the Lord they were "overjoyed." For Christ did not come to say: "Thanks a lot guys for bailing out on me!" He said, "Peace be with you." He did not come back to get revenge. He came back to forgive.

When Jesus says "Peace be with you" He is doing a whole lot more than just giving them a traditional Hebrew greeting. He is giving them Holy Absolution. All of that guilt eating away at them was removed. By holding out his scarred hands and by showing them his pierced side, Christ showed them that He was wounded not for them alone. He was wounded for the sake of the whole world. "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." That is what the prophet Isaiah said about this event nearly 700 year beforehand.

Then Jesus said to his disciples a second time, "Peace be with you." The first time was peace for themselves, to calm their fears and to turn their sorrow into gladness. But this time it is peace for others-- to move their feet out of their little locked room and out into the world-- to absolve others and to calm their fears. "As the Father sent me, I am sending you." Jesus sends his apostles to speak His peace "in the stead and by His command."

And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." This was the very breath with which God made a living being out of clay; the very breath with which God breathed into the dry dead bones that the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision. And with this very breath He sends out his people, all of us, to forgive one another, to strengthen one another and to renew each other with the Gospel of Peace. We do this because this is what Christ has first done for us.

Today, we are no different from those first fearful disciples. We, too, have not been faithful to our Lord. We have not stood up for Him when times have gotten rough. We have sinned against Him in thought, word and deed. And what do we often do with that sin? Instead of going to God, we go into our little rooms. We lock ourselves in and try to hide. But no matter where we go in this world, there is no place to hide. And the harder we try to ignore our guilt, the more painful and agonizing it can be.

King David is an example of a man who tried to deal with his sin the hard way. One day, when his soldiers were off to war, a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, who happened to be married, caught his eye. David committed adultery with this woman while her husband was off fighting in a war. The news came back to David that Bathsheba was pregnant. But instead of owning up to his sin, David tried every imaginable way to cover up what he had done. He tried to shift the blame. He tried this and that. And finally in the end he had Uriah the Hittite, Bathshebaís husband murdered. Even King David struggled with sin. On the surface he appeared to be one of the most noble, God-fearing kings Israel had ever known. But underneath he had a heart that was deceitful and desperately wicked. His heart was so wicked that he even convinced himself that he was justified in his actions.

Yet God offers us a better way out. The only way out! He gives us a precious gift so that we may be freed from all that ensnares us. That key that frees us from our prison cell is called Confession and Absolution. The Catechism teaches us that confession has two parts. "First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven."

We confess our sins in many ways. We confess to God Himself, as we do in the Lordís Prayer. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us." Secondly, we confess to our brothers and sisters in Christ when we have wrong each other. Thirdly, we confess to our pastors, the ones whom God has sent to forgive "in the stead and by His command."

The prophet Nathan was the man whom God placed into Davidís life to help him deal with his sin. Nathan came to show David that his heart was sinful to the core. He crushed him with Godís Law. But more importantly, God sent Nathan to restore him to the peace that only God can offer. He was there for him to say, "Your sins are forgiven."

We all need a Nathan in our lives; someone who will be there for us to deliver Godís forgiveness through Christ. Christ requires not only that we repent, but also that we firmly believe we are forgiven. This is so vital! Once we are forgiven, we should never again doubt that what God has done for us is true. There is no need to return to that guilt anymore. There is no need to return to that little room in our heart to hide in fear. We do not wallow in our pity and hang our heads low because Christ has truly suffered and died for us, once and for all! He has risen from the grave and now lives! He has unlocked the gates of heaven for us through His word. And to each and every one of you He breathes upon you the breath of life, filling you with the Holy Spirit and He gently says "Peace be with you." Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

Pastor Peter Hoft
The Second Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2001
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois

Peter Hoft; Copyright, 2001