08 April 2018

Peace with God in the Word and Wounds of Christ

Take comfort in the fact that, although he is perhaps best known as “Doubting Thomas,” he is in fact remembered by the Church as Saint Thomas, an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A disciple.  A fellow Christian like yourself.

He doubted, yes.  But of course, St. Thomas was not alone in doubting.  As we have heard, day after day throughout this past week, all of the disciples doubted.  Not just once, but multiple times.  When their risen Lord appeared to them and spoke His Word to them, they were slow of heart to believe.  They were foolish.  They were stubborn.

It is only by the grace of God in Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that any of them — Thomas included — were turned away from their doubts and restored to faith and joy and peace and life in the Resurrection of their Lord.

So, Thomas was not alone in his doubting back then.  And you also have your own doubts and fears, even now during Easter.  If I were to sit down and visit with any one of you individually, I could probably identify some of your particular doubts.  I know most of you pretty well, and at least some of your hurts and frustrations.  If I don’t know you very well, then we should sit down and talk, that I might get to know you better.  And in our conversation, I would begin to hear the doubts and fears that plague your heart and mind and permeate your words and actions.

Such doubts and fears are part of the inheritance we all share as the children of Adam & Eve.  They belong to our lot as sinners, as mortals who will die.  The doubts from one person to the next differ greatly, of course.  The doubts of men tend to be different from those of women.  A husband’s doubts are different than his wife’s.  Parents have different doubts and fears than their children, and children have different fears than adults.  Pastors, too, have doubts and fears, which are often different than those of their parishioners.  But all of us have doubts.  All of us have fears.

The doubts and fears in your heart, mind, and life are rooted in your sinfulness and sins, which cut you off from God and separate you from Him, though He is the very One you need the most.  You’re afraid of Him, though He would be your dearest and best Friend, because His holy and righteous Law exposes and condemns your sins and threatens to punish you for them.  So, you do your best to flee from Him, and you try to hide from Him, all to no avail.  And in your heart of hearts, you doubt very much whether there will ever be any hope or help for you at all.

All of your doubts, whatever their particulars may be, are finally the fear of death and the power that it holds over you.  For you are dying.  And your loved ones are dying, or else they have already died.  You can feel it more and more in your body, and there is nothing that you can do about it.  You cannot save your loved ones from dying, and you cannot keep yourself from dying.

Whether you realize it or not, and whether or not you would admit it, all of your doubts and fears are centered in your fear of death; because all of your pursuits in this world, no matter how much money you have, and no matter what else you gather and accumulate — none of it will last, and none of it will ever be able to save you from death.

In that same respect, all of your doubts and fears are an implicit denial of the Resurrection, as though it never happened.  That was Thomas’ problem, because he thought he “knew better,” that when you die, you stay dead.  So he thought, even though he really should have known better than that!  He had heard the Gospel from his Lord Jesus.  He had witnessed Lazarus come forth from out of the tomb.  And yet, St. Thomas doubted, and he was afraid.

You also have your doubts and fears, as did all of the disciples to begin with.  As I have said, and as you have heard, St. Thomas was not alone in his doubts.  He was alone, however, with his doubts and fears at first.  He was missing in action when the rest of the disciples were gathered together in that Upper Room.  They were afraid of the Jews, but at least they were together; and it is in the gathering of His disciples that Jesus appears.  But where was Thomas?

Perhaps he was following the advice of his non-Christian friends: “Get over it, and get on with your life.”  “It won’t do any good to grieve or mourn.”  “Come on, pull yourself together.”  Men, in particular, are always tempted by the desire to make it on their own, to figure things out and work things out on their own.  Maybe that’s what Thomas was doing, or trying to do.  On the surface of it, then, he might have looked like the strong and competent one.

But whatever he was doing, he was not there with the other disciples when they were gathered together on that first Easter Sunday.  And as a consequence, for yet another week, St. Thomas lived in doubt and fear instead of peace and joy.

Now, it’s not as though he were no longer a disciple of the Lord Jesus, though his absence and his doubts would have harmed and jeopardized his faith and life.  I’m sure he wanted with all his heart to believe that Jesus had risen.  He surely desired that peace which surpasses all understanding — that same peace which is so elusive in your life, as well.  But he could not find it on his own, and neither are you able to find that Peace on your own.

The prayer for St. Thomas, and the prayer for each and all of you, echoes the prayer of that father at the foot of the mountain, when Jesus had come down from His Transfiguration.  That man was desperate for his son to be healed, for the demon to be cast out of his son.  He asked the disciples of Jesus to do it, but they could not.  So then he asked Jesus if He would help him, please, if possible.  To which Jesus replied, “All things are possible to faith.”  And that man cried out with a prayer that surely resonates with every Christian heart: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

And Jesus does.  He comes to make Himself available to you in the gathering of His disciples.  Where His Church is gathered in His Name, there He is also.  He makes Himself accessible to you.

The other disciples (minus Thomas) were gathered together in fear, that is true, but even so, they were gathered together.  Heed that example, and be gathered together with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Liturgy.  For in that gathering is where you also receive your strength and hope and peace.

Even if you don’t believe that you need it for yourself, consider your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They need you.  They need to be gathered together with you.  And, truth be told, you really do need them, as well.  For it is there in the midst of His disciples that Jesus appears.  And His Word to His Church is a glorious Word: Peace be with you!

When wars rage on this earth, and political battles, and personal conflicts, the notion of “peace” takes on all sorts of connotations.  But there is a deeper Peace than temporary ceasefires.  There is the Peace of reconciliation with God, which is yours only by way of His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  And here for you there is that true Peace with God in the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not finally condemn you forever but forgives you and raises you up in His own Resurrection.

Jesus was there in the midst of His disciples on the First Day and the Eighth Day of the week.  And He is here for you in the midst of His disciples, likewise, week after week on the Lord’s Day — the Day of His Resurrection — and as often as we eat “this Bread” and drink “this Cup” in the proclamation and confession of His death until He comes in glory at the last.  Already here and now He comes with His Word and Holy Spirit, with His Body and His Blood.

What St. John has described, in his telling of this Holy Gospel, is the Divine Service, which you also receive here.  For it is by His means of grace that the risen Lord Jesus comes to you, by the water and the blood from His riven side, by the flesh and blood of His own hands, by and with His Word of the Gospel and His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  That is how He comes to you, and that is what He brings to you.  And by His means of grace He restores your weak and wobbly faith.  He removes your doubts and fears.  He bestows His deep Peace by the forgiveness of all your sins.

Such Peace is elusive.  You will not find it anywhere else than here in Christ Jesus.  For He has risen from the dead.  The One who died for you has also risen for you and your salvation.  So does He open His wounds to you in His Font and at His Altar.  They are the sign and seal of your forgiveness, the fruits and benefits of the Atonement that Christ has made for all of your sins.

Though death lays hold of you, it cannot keep you.  For the Law cannot condemn you, and the devil cannot have you.  You are the Lord’s.  He has not only created you, but He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, at a costly price, namely, that of His own holy and precious Blood.

In His love for you, therefore, in the Ministry of His Gospel — by the sending of men in His Name, as He Himself has been sent by God the Father — this Christian faith and life finds its heart and center in “the Office of the Keys.”  In Holy Absolution — which is the Word of Christ Himself, spoken by His servant — your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is that sure and certain.

And it is by that Word of forgiveness, by that Word of Holy Absolution, that Jesus recreates you in His Image, in the Likeness of His own crucified and risen Body.  He breathes Life back into your dried-up, dead and dying bones.  He raises you up from the dust of the earth.  What Adam lost, Christ has regained for you and for all people, and He gives you that gift of His Life and Salvation by the Word and ways and means of His forgiveness of sins.

He gives you His Word of the Gospel, and He breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul, that you might be a living being, and that you might live forevermore with Him who is the Living One, the Author and Giver of Life.  He thereby gives you true and lasting Peace, even as He raises you up in Himself to live by His grace in faith and love.  Such are the fruits of His forgiveness.  And that is the whole point.  That is what you need above all else.

Here at the Lord’s Altar is your Spiritual Food and Drink.  Here is the very Breath of Life, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel.  Apart from these means of grace, you do not live at all.  And yet, here you are, and by these means you do live, holy and righteous in the presence of God.  That is Christ’s desire for you.  It is why He gave His Life and shed His Blood for you.  It is why He has caused His Gospel to be written and proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that you and all might believe that this same Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh; that He died for you and rose again; and that, believing in Him, you should have life in His Name.

That is why St. John and the other holy Evangelists wrote down the Word and works of Christ, those precious Words of the Holy Gospel.  Not to be preserved in a book like a museum artifact, however.  But to be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.  To be administered and distributed from the Altar of Christ and at His Font in the midst of His disciples from all nations.  To be spoken by pastors to the people of God in many and various circumstances.  That Christ and His Life might be put into the ears, into the hearts and minds, and into the flesh and blood of His children.  That your body should no longer be a body of death, but a body destined for the Resurrection, for the Glory of Paradise, and for Life with your Father in heaven forever.

By these Gifts Christ freely gives, and by these Gifts alone, you are brought to faith in Him — and you are nurtured and sustained in that faith, even in the midst of all your doubts and fears — through the forgiveness of all your sins.  And by this faith and forgiveness you have life, and you have it more abundantly, unto the everlasting salvation of your body and your soul.

That, dear friend in Christ, is what is set before you here and now.  For Jesus is here with you in the midst of His disciples.  And what He gives to you is the Peace of God, just as He has spoken.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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