In our readings for this morning we see two very different sides to the apostles. In the first reading, from the book of Acts we are shown a group of dynamic, fearless and powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ. They had been given the task of proclaiming peace to the world. The risen Jesus himself, had commanded them to do this, and that is just what they were going to do. They were a small band of believers who are not afraid of what consequences their witnessing might bring upon themselves. They are too busy telling it like it is to worry about all those around them who would like to see them fail! They would obey God, not men.
In our Gospel Lesson, however, the picture is something altogether different. It is only a few weeks earlier, and yet, you can barely recognize these apostles as the same eleven men in the book of Acts. These men are hiding. They have spent the last few days secreted away in a locked room. All they know of the events going on around them has come from second and third hand reports. Their Lord and teacher has been captured, killed, and buried. But then the women come to them with strange reports. His body is missing! The women say they actually saw him. The Pharisees are claiming his body was stolen and hidden. These men are not dynamic, fearless or powerful witnesses; instead they are doubtful, lonely, scared, and bewildered. What happened? How did they change?
Where do you find yourself, on this bright and sunny Sunday only days after the glorious resurrection of our Lord? If you had to compare your present life as a disciple of Jesus, which group of apostles would you be most like? Are you quietly, fearfully, praying for peace in the world and peace in your life? Afraid of what could happen, listening and waiting for the world to knock at your door. Or are you actively out in the world knocking on its doors, proclaiming peace to everyone around you?
l know how most people would like to answer that: They would say that the question isn’t really fair, and then place themselves somewhere in the middle, not cowering in fear, but not out on the street corners either. Life isn’t as black and white as all that. Things are just not that simple anymore, and then the long and personalized list of reasons why it just wouldn’t or couldn’t work, inevitably would follow. Oh, its not that we are against it. We are whole-heartedly for the proclaiming of Christ’s peace in this world … in theory anyway. It’s just that I’m too this or not enough of that. I don’t have enough of such and such or simply far too much of the other.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ command to the apostles, and to us is pretty simple: ”As the father has sent me, even so l send you.” Jesus was sent to earth to proclaim peace. That’s what he wants us to do too. Go out into a world that so often seems harsh and violent and preach the good news of God’s peace. The question to ask is not “if” or even “when” but only ”How”?
Obviously the apostles were able to get over whatever was bothering them, get past all the same tired excuses, and do what they had been asked. If they could do it then we should be able to do the same, right? The situation hadn’t changed drastically for the apostles making it suddenly safe for them to get out and start preaching. So what changed? The apostles did! In order to proclaim God’s peace they first had to experience it and come to understand it. That’s why Jesus showed himself to them on that first Easter Sunday.
”On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Peace be with You were Jesus’ first words to his apostles. It was the message he had come to share with them. Why did Jesus show them his hands and side? So that they would know it was really him, but also because it is in those marks that true and lasting peace has come to the world. Peace between God and man.
Peace is with us because Jesus suffered the violence of the cross in our place. He made himself a peace offering to God on our behalf. And God accepted it. He took the life of Jesus as a ransom for ours. He then brought Jesus back to life to show what He has in store for us all: Eternal life! Just as Jesus has risen from the dead, never to die again, so too will we who believe in him. The peace of Easter is the peace of eternal life.
But there is even more peace to be shared between Jesus and his disciples that day. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so l 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”’ This is perhaps the most startling aspect of the Easter peace Jesus shares with them, and with us. Forgiveness. The apostles, Jesus’ closest friends and followers, had abandoned him and left him for dead. They had doubted him and hidden themselves from their calling. But Jesus does not come in glorious wrath to punish them for their lack of faith and obedience. Instead, He comes gently, to forgive them.
And even more than that; to make them agents of his forgiveness in his place! In the church we refer to this as the office of the Keys. It’s just a fancy way of saying the same thing Jesus did ”If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.” And as he forgave the apostles, so too does he forgive us, no matter how lack-luster we may have been in living up to his calling. He gently forgives us and gives us the wonderful opportunities to forgive others for him. The peace of Easter is the peace of forgiveness shared.
But the peace that Jesus had to share with the apostles in that first Easter was also a very personal peace. He went out of his way to personally comfort the apostles in their time of trouble, even giving special attention to the individual concerns of Thomas. He took Thomas by the hand and brought him back to faith. And Jesus would do no less for any of us. The peace he would share with you this Easter is a very personal peace; between only you and him. It is a peace he began in your baptism, when he breathed the Holy Spirit upon you. When he made you his brother or sister, forgiving you your sin, and giving you faith in the promises of Easter. But it is also a peace that he continues to share with you through his own body and blood, shed once upon the cross to pay the price, now given to you in the Lord’s supper. A meal that brings the continued peace of forgiveness through that body and blood.
And if that were not peace enough it is also given to you personally through his words to you and the time you spend in them. As Jesus used his words to calm the disciples and give them comfort in their time of trials, so too does he come to us with the same words of comfort and assurance in the Holy Scriptures. As our text stated: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” The peace of Easter is a peace shared in water, and wine, bread and the Word.
More important than proclaiming God’s peace is first truly experiencing it. That is what Easter is all about. Experiencing God’s peace given through his Son. A peace that means eternal life, forgiveness, and the personal support of God. Only once the apostles had truly experienced this peace were they able to get out and share it with the world. The same holds true today. Use this time of Easter to bathe yourself in God’s peace. Experience it to the fullest, and then you too will be ready, willing, and truly able to share it with others.