Easter Sunday Proper B                                 
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-20 Sermon                                                    
April 8, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
199 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
191 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"
205 "The Day Of Resurrection"
200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"


TEXT:  “19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 

            I was on Police Chaplain duty several weeks ago, when my phone rang about 11 o'clock in the evening.  The Police Dispatcher told me that I needed to respond to a "code 36."  My heart sank.  You see, a "code 36" is a suicide.  And those are never easy calls.  This one was no exception either.  This was going to be a rough one.

            This was a 19 year-old boy with some very serious issues.  When I got to their home, I sat at the dining room table with the mother, father, aunt, uncle, and two brothers of the victim--one older, and one younger.  It was a very sad and tearful situation indeed.

            I sat there while they relayed the situation to me.  This young man had tried suicide several years before, by shutting himself in the garage with the car running.  Fortunately one of his friends found him in time.  They thought everything was okay with him.  But it wasn't.  This time, he broke into his father's gun safe while he was at work, which wasn't an easy task in itself.  He took his father's 12-gauge shotgun, and a few shells he found in the garage.  He then drove out on a county road, where he pulled off to the side, and then he shot himself. 

            When I went to the scene, I won't describe what things were like out there, except to say that it was anything but a pleasant sight.  The deputy sheriff I spoke with was noticeably bothered, but very professional.  As I gathered information so I could fill in the LOSS team, which is a volunteer organization to help counsel those connected with a suicide victim, there was always this rather haunting question in the background.  Why?  Why did he do it?  What is it that gets into the head of a young, clean-cut healthy teenage boy that he sees suicide as the only way to deal with things in this life?  What does it take for somebody to actually put their finger on the trigger of a shotgun and pull it, knowing full well that it will produce their own fatality?

            Hold that thought for a moment while I tell you a different story.  A couple days ago, I found out that a friend of mine from some years back also died.  He was 51 years old, and he left behind a wife, a teenage daughter, and a rather large extended family.  One day while he was at work installing windows, he began to not feel well.  So he called one of the other workers and told him he was sick.  When the other worker got to the jobsite, he found my friend sitting in his pickup truck, dead from a massive heart attack. 

            My friend was a devoted husband and father, and he was very active in his church.  He loved his Lord, and knew his Saviour.  Little did he know that when he left his house that morning to go to work, that he would be going home to a different home, the one prepared for him in heaven.

            This was a shocking and painful situation as well.  His family had lost a husband, father, brother, son, and uncle all at once.  A lot of healing needs to happen in their lives too. 

            If we make a comparison, both families experienced a tragic loss.  But there's only one situation where our Lord provides the certainty of comfort and hope.  That hope is the one that comes from the cross of Jesus.  And therein lies the night and day difference between the two situations.

            Today is Easter Sunday.  We have just come through a rather somber Lenten period.  Good Friday ended with an almost deafening darkened silence, as we once again relived one of the most bloody and cruel punishments of all.  Our Lord Jesus was crucified and put to death on the cross at the hands of sinful men.    

            But that's not where we left things.  Jesus is risen!  We have changed the somber mood of Lent for the joy of Easter.

We sing those joyful and powerful hymns of triumph instead of the more somber tones of Lent.  We know that Jesus lives, and we fairly shout it out. 

            But still, that cross is before us today.  We haven't hidden it away. However, we note that it is empty, because Jesus is finished with suffering for our sins and because Jesus is alive.  We look at the cross in a different light.  We find comfort, joy, peace, and hope in his cross. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” we sing. “What comfort this sweet sentence gives!”  Today we see his cross, but we see peace and life there, and not the defeat of death.

            When I told you those two stories at the beginning, I did it so you could see the sharp contrast between the two.  The young man who committed suicide did not know joy or peace in his life.  However my friend did.  He knew Jesus.  And that's the key difference. 

            On that first Easter evening, Jesus' disciples did not know joy or peace either. They had seen Jesus crucified.  With his death, they assumed all their hopes and expectations had also died. 

            When Jesus was first arrested in the garden, they had fled into the night, confused and frightened.  As the events unfolded, they watched in shock.  Peter, who had boasted so quickly that he would die with Jesus rather than deny him, had in fact denied Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times.  Peter and the rest saw the one they spent three years with abused by the soldiers and then led out of Jerusalem, too weak to even carry his own cross.

            It’s no wonder that they were afraid.  First, they were afraid that all they had believed about Jesus was a lie.  They had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  They heard Peter’s confession that Jesus was indeed true God, and they whole-heartedly agreed with it.  They had been there when the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  That would have been such an exciting moment to witness!

            But then a different crowd shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”  Where was their hope now?  What did all this mean for the promises he had made to Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died?  Jesus had given them comfort when he said in John chapter 11, verses 25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."  Oh yes Jesus, those were great words spoken to a grieving family.  But here Jesus was dead!  Were those just empty words and a false hope in the face of the death of a dear friend?

            Second, they were also afraid that Jesus could not care for them any longer.  If the Jewish leaders had succeeded in killing Jesus, then his disciples reckoned that they would be next.  Jesus was gone, and the miracles they had witnessed were also gone with him. Without that protection, they were like sitting ducks; so they hid behind locked doors.  And what about their future?  They had left businesses and families behind to follow Jesus, only to see him brutally killed.

            Oh yes, there were the reports of his resurrection.  But the disciples did not believe the women.  They reckoned that it was just the product of intense grief.  These women were only in denial.

            When Peter and John went to the tomb that morning, John believed; but their fear was still stronger than comfort and hope for Peter and the others.  Even though they had witnessed Jesus raising others from the dead, the resurrection of Jesus was just too much to believe.

            Then the impossible happened.  Jesus suddenly stood amongst them.  Even though the disciples had barricaded the doors, he was right there with them.  Jesus even left no doubt as to whom he was.  They saw and touched the wounds Jesus had suffered only three days earlier.  But he was alive!  This is how Jesus encouraged them to see the cross differently than they had on Good Friday.

            Jesus brought peace to them in that locked room.  His presence among them was a confirmation that all he had taught them was true. The words about him being the resurrection and the life were also true.  They didn't need to fear anything.  He was not dead.  His power had not been removed.  In fact, it was even greater, because he himself had arisen from the dead!  And that was something that no one has ever done or would ever do again.

            The peace he brought was tied to the wounds he had received on the cross.  He had suffered for the disciples.  He paid for their sins with his suffering and death.  He accomplished forgiveness for them and for the entire world.  They were at peace with God because of those wounds. 

            As they stared in Jesus with awe, they began to understand that the punishment Jesus had endured brought peace.  His suffering was now over.  His hands, side, and feet were no longer attached to the cross.  He was no longer suffering.  It was done, finished, over.  “Peace be with you!” he said.

            That peace is for you and me as well.  His wounds were not just for this select group of people in Israel so long ago.  His wounds announce to all that he has completed his mission.  We have full and free forgiveness for our sins.  Because of what Jesus suffered, once and for all, we are declared innocent of all our sins.  We are justified before God.  We have peace with God, the peace the angels sang about to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth.  The living hands of Jesus confirmed this peace, those hands still marked by the suffering he endured to achieve that peace.  And so he says with all assurance, “Peace be with you!”

            Since Jesus was now alive, he assures them that he would continue to be with them always, no matter what the future held.

            If we think of how many centuries that have passed since that first Easter Sunday evening, we know that he has cared for his sheep through those centuries, and he continues to care for them.  We are one of those sheep included in his powerful and gentle care.  No matter what lies ahead for any of us, Jesus will take care of us.  That too brings us peace, comfort, and courage.  See his cross.  His wounds assure us of so much.  Even though that cross was a place of torture and death, that's all over now.  Jesus lives!

            His wounds brought another blessing for his fearful disciples.  Of course, death was a part of their fear.  In John chapter 11 verse 16, Thomas said as they were going to Jerusalem, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

            When they thought Jesus was dead for good, perhaps they became resigned to their fate at the hands of the Jewish leaders, to die like Jesus.  Even if they escaped the wrath of the Jewish leaders at this point, what hope would they have when death finally caught up to them?  Joy and hope were scarce commodities in that locked and barricaded room before Jesus showed up.

            But he did come to them!  And this was no ghost either.  He not only asked them to touch his wounds, he also ate some food that first night with them.  Now they began to see the cross as the complete payment for their sins.  Now Jesus asked them to see the cross in the light of everlasting life.

            Even though Jesus still had the same body complete with the wounds, there was also something different.  In a way nobody could explain, he was right there with them without even so much as a knock on the door. 

            Jesus invited them to see his cross and then life and death itself in a different way.  Jesus had said, “Because I live you too will live.”  Just as he died but then rose again, so would his disciples.  Jesus had been dead, but now he was alive.  It's just like Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, verse 16: “Whoever believes [will] have eternal life.”

            Just think comfort and peace they had because he was alive!  They could face all of life’s challenges, knowing they would live forever.  They would be brought back to life with glorified bodies like his and live with him forever in the mansions he prepared for them in heaven.

            At the beginning of my sermon, I told you two stories about two different deaths that happened recently.  Both of them were tragic.  The 19-year-old teen was seeking peace because he needed peace, but he refused to look any further than the business end of a 12-gauge shotgun.  On the other hand, my friend knew the peace of the cross.  He already had the peace Jesus gave him.  And so the angels carried him home to the mansion that awaited him.

            The hardest part of dealing with a suicide is giving any assurance of hope to those who are left behind.  When somebody refuses the peace that Jesus offers, then nothing is left but fear and emptiness.  But when Jesus calls home one of his saints, then we can rejoice through the tears of mourning.  Jesus says, "Because I live, you shall live also."  And what a blessing that is too!            

            That comfort and peace are yours too, right now, today.  The cross is empty.  Jesus endured the pain, suffering, and death, but he did not stay dead.  He is the same Jesus who paid the debt your sins and my sins deserved.  Yes, look at his hands.  They move!  Look at his feet.  He stands among the disciples and walks among them!  His hands and feet are not connected to a lifeless corpse. They belong to a risen and glorified Lord.   You too will live forever, just like him!

            We know very well that there will come a time for all of us when our bodies lie still and lifeless in a casket and later in a grave, or otherwise simply be cremated.  As Jesus moved among the disciples and they touched his living hands, they saw with their eyes the hope of their own resurrection and eternal life.  We see it too.  We can be completely assured that Jesus will call us from our graves or ashes and give us glorified bodies like his.

            Our hope is based on our living Lord.  He gives us the courage to face each challenge, each tragedy, and each misery of life.  We know we will rise from the dead as he did. When we encounter death, we turn to the promises of Jesus for comfort.  We need not be afraid as the disciples were before Jesus appeared.  He lives!  He overcame death!  Our sins are forgiven.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!  Peace be with you!