Peace Be With You

Text: John 20:19-31
Date: Easter II + 4/11/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

When our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples on that first Easter evening, He could have, maybe even should have, reprimanded them for their unbelief, their disloyalty, their fear and failure; and even more so when He appeared the next Sunday to doubting, unbelieving Thomas. But what were His words of resurrection greeting? “Peace be with you.” A common enough greeting of the day, some would be tempted to translate it, “Howdy” or “Good Day” or (as too many say today) “Ha’ya’doin’?” But the risen Lord’s greeting was not meant to be a “common enough” greeting. Those who attempt to clothe peoples’ encounter with Christ in worship today as being as common and comfortable as your own living room are further away, not the closer to the dynamic, inspiring, faith-instilling Gospel greeting of Jesus that first Easter Day. For “Peace be with you” is the first word and the last word. The peace He wishes He actually brings and bestows just by saying it, though this peace is not just a wish or a word but a completed accomplishment and gift of the God who not only created all things but has more gloriously restored all things and won us back from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil. Our Lord’s innocent, humble, vicarious suffering and death, and His mighty, glorious, incomparable, astounding awakening from the cold, dead tomb, has changed everything; it has changed the entire history of the world and its destiny. And it will change even your history and destiny when the mighty word of the Gospel is grasped by your heart: “Peace Be With You.”

Peace be with you. It was the first and the final word our Lord spoke after finishing His earthly tour of duty. For this He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, taking on our flesh in that crèche at Bethlehem where angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and … PEACE to His people on earth.”

Peace be with you. The peace of Christ is, first of all, salvation, reconciliation with God. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” That it was really Him He proved by showing the marks of His crucifixion. But more than that it was that bloody sacrifice of His own life on the cross that made for our peace with God. For it was our sin and our death that He endured and offered up His holy, sinless life as the one and only sacrifice equal to our need. Now by faith in Him we have peace with God.

Peace be with you. He said it again. But this time He sends His followers to bring His peace, His salvation to others. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” That is, as the Father sent Jesus to bring the peace of the release from sin to the world, so does He send us, His Church, to bring the peace of forgiveness to others. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them (by God); if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld (by God).” These are some of the words of institution of the Holy Ministry. It is for Christians only, that is, for those who have first received forgiveness that they are now sent to bring that same forgiveness to others. When “He breathed on them” this recalls our creation when “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). The difference is that Christ gives the Holy Spirit and the new, eternal, resurrection life that cannot die.

Peace be with you. Yet once again Jesus spoke those words, eight days later, this time to Thomas who was not there when Jesus appeared the first time. It is too kind to say Thomas doubted. He said he absolutely refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He refused the witness and report of the others. Did the others, after all, really see the real Jesus, or did they see only an apparition? Resurrection means a real body that you can touch and inspect. Yet it was not Thomas’ demand that made Jesus appear the second time. It was, rather, his call to be an apostle, that is, to be an eye witness of the risen Christ that Jesus appeared to him and said, “Do not disbelieve, but  believe.” Thomas confessed his faith saying that Jesus is “my Lord and my God.”

Now the greeting comes to you, Peace be with you. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. These things are written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. That peace, that life is all about praise to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. For though Christ has paid the price for all sin, still we struggle against sin daily. Forgiveness is our healing and defense for every battle and every day in our pilgrimage of faith. Forgiveness is the path to peace in every conflict in marriage, in the family, in the church and even in the world.

Jesus could have reprimanded His fearful disciples. Instead He lifted their eyes, their hearts and minds and spirits to their new life and higher calling, saying, “Peace be with you.” He does the same today, and every day of the Christian’s journey. For the peace of Christ is the gift we need the most: the gift of faith, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of reconciliation with God and with one another.

Peace be with you. Go in peace.