Today is the Octave of the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Like the word “octagon,” octave makes reference to the number eight. In this case, it designates eight days. Each of the major feasts of the church year are celebrated over the course of eight days. One Sunday isn’t enough. The full week following Sunday is part of the celebration, and then it spills over into the next Sunday. That is why today we pray not only the Collect of the Day for the Second Sunday of Easter, Quasimodo Geniti, but also the Collect for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord from Easter Sunday.
Our Gospel lesson for the Octave is a perfect fit. On Easter morning last week we heard the first verses of John chapter 20 as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early on Sunday morning, when it was still dark. Now on the Octave we hear from the end of John 20 about what happened on Sunday evening.
We learn that on the evening of Easter, Jesus’ disciples were gathered together. They had locked the doors because they were afraid of the Jews. Now of course, they too were Jews. But in the way John uses this term we see that a change has taken place. We believe that John was probably the last Gospel written. He uses this word in a way that clearly distinguishes between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. It is a division that would take place in the decades after Jesus’ ascension as it became obvious to all that Judaism and Christianity were different religions. Yet while people didn’t recognize it yet on Easter Sunday, the change had already occurred. Jesus had changed everything.
The disciples were gathered gather with the doors locked because they were afraid of the Jews. It’s not hard to understand why they were afraid. The Jewish leadership in Judea had done everything in their power to pressure the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, into crucifying Jesus. And they had succeeded. They had viewed Jesus as a threat and had used every means at their disposal to eliminate him. Now with Jesus dead, it wasn’t hard to imagine that they would come after Jesus’ followers in order to wipe out any lingering danger.
Yet their fear must have been about more than just this. That morning, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found that the large stone had been rolled away. She went to Peter and apparently John and told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and John had run to the tomb and had discovered the linen cloths in which Jesus body had been wrapped, and the face cloth folded and placed in a different spot.
After they had gone home Mary Magdalene had encountered a man she thought was the gardener. Yet in their conversation she had perceived that it was in fact the Lord Jesus! He had sent her back to the other disciples to share this message: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and told them what he had said.
What was one to make of all this? Fearful of reprisal from the Jews; anxious about what exactly was happening, they were gathered together with the doors locked. Fear and apprehension often describe our lives. Sometimes we truly do fear what the next lab report will say or what will happen to our job. At other times we encounter gnawing apprehension, worry and uncertainty about what is going to happen in our lives or the lives of friends and loved ones.
Now fear and worry do not arise from faith. The only fear that does is when we fear, love and trust in God above all things. Instead, this fear and worry is prompted by sin. In fact, it is sin. Now it’s not as if we want to fear and worry. It is instead evidence of how the Fall – the old Adam – continues to hinder us and works against the new man within you created in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. But all the same, it is sin because it is a failure to trust in God.
The disciples were locked up with their fear and worry.
And then Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus appeared with them in the midst of the locked building. The New Testament teaches us that in his resurrection Jesus’ body was changed so that it can never die again. It is the same change he will work in your body through the Spirit on the Last Day.
However, it doesn’t seem to be the case that the cause of this extraordinary event is to be found in the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. Instead, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is also something you and I are not – he is true God. In the Gospels, during his ministry, Jesus used his power as God to serve others. He does great things, but they are always helping and serving others. Yet now as the risen Lord who has completed his mission, we start to see him manifesting his power in new and dramatic ways.
Jesus appears in their midst and the very first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” The disciples are fearful and apprehensive. Jesus appears in their midst and imparts peace. His words, “Peace be with you,” are not a wish. They are not a hope. Instead, they do what they say because Jesus the risen Lord stands in their midst and speaks to them.
This connection is emphasized immediately as we are told, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Jesus showed them the marks where nails had been driven through his hands to affix him to the cross. How showed them the mark where a spear had been thrust into his side in order to make sure he was dead – a thrust that brought forth blood and water.
Jesus appeared in the midst of fearful disciples. He said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them the marks of his crucifixion and demonstrated that he, their Lord was alive. He had risen from the dead! And John tells us, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” This is actually a rather lame translation. Better yet is, “they rejoiced” when they saw the Lord. Jesus the crucified and risen Lord drove away their fear. He brought them peace. He brought them joy.
We gather this morning to hear this Gospel lesson so that Jesus can do the same thing for us. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the One in whom the saving glory of God was revealed in the world. John begins his Gospel by saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus revealed this glory through the miracles that he performed. After Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” The signs revealed Jesus’ glory and they called forth faith in Jesus.
All of the signs in the Gospel point to the single action by which Jesus accomplished his saving work for us. During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show – literally ‘to sign”’ - by what kind of death he was going to die.”
The signs point to the cross. Jesus went to the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – who has taken away your sin. But Jesus was clear that this sign would not end in death. He had said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples and showed them that he had risen, just as he had said. He had conquered sin, and so in our text he imparts the gift of Holy Absolution – he gives the authority to forgive sins in Jesus’ stead. The risen Lord had conquered death. Because of this the disciples now had peace. And because of this, we now have peace. On the evening of his betrayal Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
In our world we do have tribulation. We see it in all of the messed up circumstances of this fallen world. We see it in the ways that the old Adam in us continues to drag us back into fear and worry. And that is why we need Jesus to continue to drive away drive away fear and worry. We need him to give us peace and joy, just as he did to the disciples.
The risen Lord is doing that right now through his Word. His resurrection appearance to the disciples was a sign that revealed his saving glory and gave them peace. John concludes our text by saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
You see the sign this morning through Christ’s Spirit breathed word. It is the risen Lord who speaks through this word and says, “Peace be with you.” He reveals his risen body that bears the mark of his crucifixion. He is the crucified and risen Lord who has conquered sin and death for you. And so today, like the disciples, we rejoice because we have seen the Lord. We give thanks because the risen Lord comes to us this morning and says, “Peace be with you.”