Sunday, April 3, 2016
Homily for Quasimodo Geniti (The Second Sunday of Easter / Easter 2)
John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Exodus 37:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Then, why are you so afraid? Jesus is risen! The tomb is empty! But, the women were astonished and afraid. They told no one anything. The disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors because they were afraid. And, too often you are silent and don’t tell anyone anything about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because you are afraid. Because you are afraid of what people will think of you. Because you are afraid of what people will do to you. Because you are afraid that you won’t know what to say. Or, perhaps, because you are afraid that you don’t really believe as much as you think you should? But, take comfort, and do not be afraid, O you of little faith. For, you are not so different than Peter and the apostles, than David, or Moses, or Abraham before them. And, you are not so different than Thomas, who refused to believe that His Lord had risen until he could see and touch His wounds with his own hands and fingers.
Still, Jesus comes to you, as He came to them. Still your resurrected Lord Jesus Christ comes to you to absolve you of your sins, to comfort you with His presence, to strengthen you in your faith, and to bring you His peace which is beyond human understanding. Still your living and ascended Lord Jesus comes to dissolve your fear and to replace it with faith and contentment and peace, that you may, not avoid, but face all those things you fear, and persevere and endure. Still your resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord comes to you and shows you His wounds, the living proof of His death for you, and His resurrection for you. He is the Lamb standing as though slain – standing, because He is clearly alive, victorious over death and the grave – yet bearing still the marks of both spear and nail forevermore, the living sign of our pardon for His sake. He invites you to Gaze upon those glorious scars and to find confidence, comfort, and confirmation in them. And, God the Father gazes upon those scars and He sees His suffering servant who loved Him and His Word and His Law perfectly in holiness and innocence for you and He is satisfied and at peace with you because of Him. Still He comes to you, and still He invites you, not to put your fingers into the marks in His hands and His feet, your hand into His side, but His flesh and His blood into your mouth in Blessed Communion with Him now until He returns. And, lo, He is with you always, even to the end of the age.
He came to them in the evening of the day of His resurrection. He came to bring them peace – peace with God, which is the only source of peace with man. They were gathered in fear. They were afraid of the Jews who murdered Jesus, that they might do the same to them. And, they were afraid of their own guilt and sin, that they fled and abandoned their Lord in the hour of His greatest need, choosing to save their own skins and let Him perish. Satan had them right where he wanted them – locked away, isolated from the community and the world, hiding in fear and guilt, not telling anyone anything. That’s what Satan wants for you as well. He spoke to them His peace – His performative and creative Word, at once proclaiming and actually producing the peace that He spoke. And, then, He gave them a sign, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’.” Not only the Word does Jesus give, but the Word and the Sign. Though the Word is sufficient, indeed all that is necessary, He who created you body and soul graciously ministers to you according to both natures. The Sign is a gift to you that your faith may be strengthened, that you may be confident in forgiveness, and that you may not be afraid.
But, Thomas wasn’t there. He was late to Church that first Easter Sunday and He missed out on the gifts. The others were now overjoyed to tell Him they had seen the Lord, risen from the dead just as He had said. No longer were they reticent in the silence of their guilt and fear. But, Thomas didn’t believe them. In fact, the Scriptures say that Thomas refused to believe unless he saw for himself in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails, and placed his fingers into the mark of the nails, and placed his hand into Jesus’ side. For Thomas, the Word of the Lord was not enough, but He demanded a sign. Now, throughout His ministry, Jesus often refused to grant a sign to those who opposed Him in hardhearted unbelief, such as the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the Jews. However, to those “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” who struggled to believe, even His disciples, Jesus would often grant a sign, along with a mild rebuke, to those of “little faith.”
And, so He did the following Sunday. Once again, Jesus appeared to His gathered disciples, showed Himself, breathed upon them, and proclaimed to them His peace. Indeed, a pattern was established, recounted in Acts 2:42, that the disciples would gather together on the Lord’s Day for the apostles' teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers, in the belief that the Lord would be with them as He had promised in His Word. The Lord appeared to His disciples once again, as He does to you now, and He invited Thomas, and you, to behold and to touch and to handle His wounds, the proof and sign of His resurrection from the dead and of the absolution of your sins. He comes to you with His Spirit-Word-Breath, which is sufficient and true, but also with His flesh and blood body, with water, and blessing, and touch that you may believe and be confident and trust and have comfort and peace. He comes to you to absolve you of your sins, to remove your guilt and your fear, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for good works, and to send you to tell everyone everything about the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection victory on behalf of all the world.
To all you Doubting Thomases, Jesus mercifully and graciously gives you these signs, these Sacraments – the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper – that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” Whereas Thomas was blessed to see, to hear, and to touch Jesus in the flesh, nevertheless, Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are they. You are the ones who have not seen and yet have believed, thanks be to God. To you Jesus has given the sacramental signs of water, blood, and spirit that, by their witness, you may believe and overcome the world. The victory over sin, death, and Satan is yours in Christ. Jesus Christ has died for your sins and has been raised for your justification. Now He shares His victory with you. Of what is there for you to be afraid? Are you afraid of what others will think of you or do to you? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” and that One is God. Or, are you afraid that you will not know what to say, or that you do not believe strong enough? Well, you don’t. But, do not despair, but rather cling all the more to Christ and His Word of Promise. Receive His gifts and be forgiven and strengthened and equipped through them.
Confess that you are a fearful sinner. You stand in good company, for so were the Apostles, the Patriarchs, and the Prophets before you. For, the Church of Jesus Christ is not a memorial for saints who need no forgiveness, but it is a hospital for sinners just like you. The Church is a mouth house for the forgiveness of sins. Do not be afraid! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And, that has changed everything! After beholding His Lord and His Wounds, doubting Thomas no longer needed to see and to touch, but he believed and he confessed, “My Lord, and my God!” a confession even greater than that of Peter. Yet, still, your Lord Jesus is present for you with His Words and His Wounds that you may hear and see and touch and taste and believe and confess, with Thomas, and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, “My Lord, and my God!” “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” and by believing, you have life in His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.