28 April 2019

The Peace of the Lord Be with You Always

Here is Solomon’s Portico, where the King of Peace, the Son of David, reigns over you in love and bestows His abiding Peace upon you — such Peace as this world does not know and cannot give.

The world knows peace only as a cease fire, an uneasy truce, a delicate balance between competing interests and conflicting parties.  It is little more than the patching of that which remains broken.

The brokenness is not only in the world around you but in your own heart, mind, body, and soul.  It is a deep and deadly wound within your self, which you cannot fix or repair on your own.  Nor is there any true or lasting peace to be found in trying to deny or run away from your brokenness.

Genuine Peace is not something you can have all by yourself in isolation.  It is a relationship of love and trust and communication.  It is not a balance of power but an exercise of real fellowship, a community of persons living together in harmony and cooperating in common cause.  Even if you may long for personal “peace and quiet,” there is no true peace apart from God and your neighbor.

You have no peace, therefore, so long as you are at enmity with God.  And you are at odds with Him, separated from Him by your sins and unbelief.  So you are plagued with doubts and fears, and you are anxious and restless, because you do not fear, love, and trust in the Lord as your Savior.

As a consequence of your enmity with God, to the extent that you are at not at Peace with Him in your heart, mind, body, and soul, you are at odds with your neighbors in the world, as well.  You are not at peace with the people around you but nervous, uneasy, and always on your guard.  Even with your nearest and dearest kin, there are conflicts, frustrations, misunderstandings, and stress.

Those first disciples struggled with the same things.  Do not suppose those men were superhuman or all that different from yourself.  Their Office is according to Christ’s Call, but their flesh is like your own.  Their hearts also trembled with anxiety, apprehension, and their own doubts and fears.

But so, too, for you now as it was for the disciples then, it is the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ that reconciles you to God and your neighbor, strengthens and sustains your faith, and gives you rest.

The Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the Church have therefore taught you to pray for that Peace of Christ.  Consider how often the Liturgy places on your lips a prayer for Peace — and then also how the Lord answers that prayer with His Liturgy: “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”

Here in your midst, in this gathering of His disciples in the Upper Room of His Church on earth, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus stands before you in His flesh and blood.  He opens Himself and gives Himself to you, forgives all your sins, and breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul.

See how patient and how gentle He is with you.  He does not scold you.  He does not lecture you.  Though He admonishes you with His Law, even this He does in love for you.  He does not harden His heart against you, although you have hardened your heart against Him.  Rather, with that same grace and mercy by which He came down from heaven and humbled Himself unto death, so does He come to love and serve you here within His Church.  He speaks Peace to your troubled heart.

He speaks His perfect Peace to those fears that haunt your mind, disturb your dreams and give you nightmares, and complicate your relationships.  He speaks His Peace into those circumstances in which you are so afraid of speaking, lest you be misunderstood and hurt.  And He speaks His Word of Peace in response to all those difficult and hurtful things that others have said and done to you.

He speaks His Peace in the face of that terrible weight of sadness that otherwise threatens to drag you down into the darkness of despair and death.  He thus addresses the fearful insecurity and the nagging paranoia that would drive you away from your brothers and sisters and cause you to retreat and flee from your Savior and your God.  He calls you back from the brink of despair to Himself.

Take note of this fact, and bear it in mind as a cautionary warning: The only thing that separated Thomas from the other disciples is the fact that he was not there where the disciples were gathered.

Over this past week we have heard again the various accounts of the Resurrection from each of the four Evangelists, and it is so striking that, over and over again, all of the disciples were doubtful and unbelieving.  They refused to believe the reports of the Resurrection from those who had seen the Lord.  And even when He stood in their presence, they could not believe it because it seemed too good to be true.  They repeatedly supposed that Jesus was a ghost, a disembodied spirit.  They did not know what to think, so they stood there gaping, open-mouthed, until Jesus did the same thing for them that He did for Thomas on the Eighth Day: He showed them His hands and His feet and His side.  He opened up His wounds to them, and in that way He called them to rejoice.

It is by those holy wounds of Christ that He has mended and made whole what was broken in you.  He has taken your brokenness upon Himself, He has gathered it up into His own Body of flesh and blood, and He has suffered it all.  But it has not broken Him.  Not a bone of Him was broken, nor His faith in God, nor His righteousness and trust, not even in His death.  He bore that brokenness in Himself, in His Body on the Cross.  And yet, God raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead.

So, if your own heart is not at peace, know this, that God’s heart is at peace toward you.  If you are afraid of Him, if you are troubled by your sins, if you do not know where to turn, if you are lost and lonely, if you are in conflict with your neighbor, take it to heart that God the Lord is at peace with you.  He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.

The Lord Jesus has borne the weight of all your sins and all of their deadly consequences.  He has borne the weight of those sins which you commit and those sins which are committed against you.  And He has not allowed those sins to prevail or triumph.  Nor has death prevailed or triumphed.

In His own Body (just like yours), and with His own holy and precious Blood, by the wounds that He suffered — by these means of Christ you are made whole.  Your iniquities are forgiven.  Your sorrows are soothed.  Your sicknesses are healed.  For Christ has atoned for all your sins.

The holy and precious Blood of Christ Jesus is the very life of God — which He has given for you.  The Lord your God has done it willingly.  He has made Himself weak in the strength of His mercy.

The incarnate Son of God has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to His God and Father.  And now, see here what a foolish thing this same Lord Jesus does.  He gives Himself to these men, these disciples, these flawed and trembling men.  He opens up His wounds to them.  And He sends these weak and weary, wounded men to preach a Word the world despises, a Word that sounds so utterly insane.  It is a Word that stands fast against sin, death, and hell — a Word that rescues you.

They are weak and weary men.  They are doubtful and afraid.  But Jesus rescues them and sends them in His Name.  Thus, by the hands of His Apostles many signs and wonders were performed among the people.  All those who were sick or sorrowful, who were filled with unclean spirits and with illness in their bodies and their souls, all of them were healed by the Word of Christ.  So did the Apostles preach, and so did they write what they have written that you may believe and live.

Such are the signs which Jesus has performed, and which He still performs now.  The Acts of the Apostles are the acts of Jesus.  They are what Jesus continues to do and say to His Church on earth.  By the Words of His Apostles, even to this day, the signs of Christ are performed in your midst.

Now, there are many other signs which Jesus has done among His disciples, many of which belong to other times and places.  But there are these Signs which are done here and now for you in His Name, at His Word, that you may have faith and life in Him, and Peace, and health, and strength.

See the signs which He performs, which He gives to you from and with and in His Holy wounds.  See how, as He breathed His last and gave up His Spirit on the Cross, here He breathes His Spirit into you.  Christ breathes into your nostrils, and you become a living being in both body and soul.

To begin with, there is in this Holy Gospel that means of grace and forgiveness which the Small Catechism has called the Office of the Keys and Confession.  So, then, consider why it is that Jesus gives this special authority to His Church on earth, that His called and ordained servants should hear your confession of sins and speak His personal Word of forgiveness into your ears and life.

Why does He do this thing?  It is because there is special comfort in laying your sins before God and hearing His Word of Absolution, and receiving the comfort of those shepherds whom He has given to care for His sheep.  It is by and with the Word of Holy Absolution, spoken in His Name and stead, that your dear Lord Jesus Christ breathes His living and Life-giving Holy Spirit into you, so that all of your sins, all of your sicknesses and sorrows, your anxieties, doubts, and fears, are assuaged and removed.  Thus are you strengthened and lifted up in faith, just as Thomas was.

In response to his audacious request, Jesus invites Thomas to go ahead, to stick his fingers into the nail wounds, to stick his hand into the spear wound.  And the same Lord Jesus does no less for you.  In the waters of your Holy Baptism, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you also have been tucked into His open side, grafted into His Body as a new branch of the true Vine.  Warts and all, wounds and all, you are grafted into Christ Jesus.  And in Him you have Peace with God and Sabbath Rest.

And here, too, at His Altar, He opens up His hands to you, to give you His own Body to eat, to pour out His Blood for you to drink.  And again, in this New Testament of His Body and Blood you have Peace with God in Christ — Peace that surpasses anything this world could ever know.  For in the fellowship of His Body, by the Atonement and cleansing of His holy, precious Blood, you are reconciled to His God and Father through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is in that Peace with God in Christ that you have real joy and gladness, even in the midst of sin and death all around you.  So are you also able to live in Peace with your neighbors in the world, because you live in Christ.  Confident and courageous in Christ Jesus, you are able to comfort your weary, weak, and wounded brothers and sisters, and to forgive those who trespass against you.

It is in the Peace of Christ that you are able to bear reproach, knowing that God will vindicate you.  You speak Peace to those who hate you, and in patience you pray for those who persecute you, with love and mercy and compassion.  You do not harden your heart against others, because God does not harden His heart against you but deals with you in long-suffering patience and in Peace.

You have this Peace and comfort in Christ Jesus; and so you are able to do for your neighbors the same thing the other disciples did for Thomas after that first day of the week when he was absent.  They spoke to him the Gospel: “We have seen the Lord!”

And you can do the same.  Not as an eyewitness of the Resurrection, but as one who has heard and received the mercies of God in Christ Jesus in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto Life and Salvation in Him.  So, by all means, proclaim these good things of the Lord to your family, friends, and neighbors, and bring them with you into the Lord’s House, to be here in the Upper Room on the Lord’s Day.

Encourage them to come with you, and bring them along, not as a work of merit, but in order to find and receive mercy in the Lord who loves both you and them.  Here there is Peace and Sabbath Rest — and how could you not share that with your neighbors?  Even if they seem incredulous, cynical, and skeptical, don’t despair, and don’t give up.  Who knows how that first week was for Thomas and the other disciples?  But he was there with them on the Eighth Day.  And in spite of his doubts, he was met by the Lord Jesus and raised up from his unbelief to the holiness of faith.

The same Lord Jesus meets you here in His mercy.  And these things have been written that you may believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God; that by such faith you may have life in Him.

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

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