Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20:19, 20-22
It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. "Peace be with you," he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. …. As the Father sent me, so I send you."

Peace that calms all fear

Is there something that you are afraid of?
What is it that either paralyses you with fear or starts you screaming?
Maybe it’s one of these. (Use only some of these)
Mysophobia is fear of "dirt".
Hydrophobia is fear of "water".
Nyctophobia is the fear of "darkness".
Acrophobia is fear of "high places".
Arachnophobia is the fear of "spiders".
Xenophobia is fear of "strangers".
Hierophobia is the fear of
priests or pastors.
Claustrophobia is fear of "confined places".
Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the "number 13".
Teutophobia or Germanophobia is the fear of
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of
long words
(Try and say that).

The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin had badly damaged his back in a fall. From that moment he constantly lived in the fear of becoming paralysed and so was constantly feeling his legs and pinching them. A lady sitting next to him at a dinner noticed that the aged bishop was agitated and muttering to himself, "It's come at last; I can't feel a thing. It’s finally happened; I'm paralysed."
Kindly the woman asked the muttering old man what was wrong. "I've been pinching my leg for the last five minutes and I can't feel a thing," he replied. "I must be paralysed."
The woman answered. "It's all right, your grace. It's my leg you've been pinching".

For the person who has some kind of phobia there is no peace until the object causing the fear is removed.
We have a good friend who has phobia of stuffed toys and teddy bears. She cannot bear a fluffy toy to be anywhere near her and won’t relax until the toy is removed.
Likewise another person we know has Cynophobia; she is terrified if there is a dog any where near her.
Fear can be illogical and baseless - after all what harm can a fluffy toy cause.  But for the person affected by such fear it is real and they can't relax.

The disciples were afraid. They were confused. They had witnessed the cruel death of Jesus on the cross. Peter and John had witnessed the empty tomb early that morning but we are told they didn’t understand anything Jesus had said about rising from the dead after 3 days. They had listened to Mary Magdalene’s account of her meeting with Jesus in the garden near the tomb where Jesus had been laid. They gather together on the evening of Easter Day behind locked doors.

They were afraid. And they had every reason to be afraid. The temple authorities had been out to get Jesus for months, repeatedly seeking ways to get rid of this troublemaker, trying to trap him in making statements that they could use against him. The disciples also knew from experience that the chief priests and other religious authorities were very determined and in the end got what they wanted – the death of the man who they believed undermined their authority and challenged the religious beliefs of the people.

Since the authorities had been instrumental in the torture and death of their master, it was no wonder they were huddled together behind locked doors. Who knows if they might be the next ones to be dragged away and treated like Jesus? After all, the rumour had been spread that Jesus’ body had been taken from the tomb, and it was highly likely the authorities would blame the disciples.

But it was not only the religious authorities the disciples feared. One of their own had betrayed Jesus. Judas had been more than just a friend; he had been one of the core group of disciples chosen by Jesus. Is it possible that someone else whom knew them personally could also betray them? Whom could they trust?

Their fear wasn’t some unreasonable illogical phobia. It was very real. Their fear was so intense that they forgot the many words of assurance and comfort that Jesus had spoken to them. Jesus had warned them that he would be going away but told them not to be worried and upset and to trust in God. But at that moment all they could feel is fear so when they met they made sure that the doors were locked and I dare say made sure very few people knew about their meeting.

Fear can be a confusing condition. There is good fear and bad fear.
If you are trying to cross a busy street, it is good to be afraid.
If you notice frayed wires on your electric kettle, it is right to be afraid.
If you are caught in a storm it’s normal to fear the lightning and destructive forces of the wind.

But if fear is given too large a role - if fear begins to dominate our thoughts, feelings and behaviour - it can become a distracting, distorting, disabling and even dangerous emotion. If fear causes you to panic in the middle of a tricky driving manoeuvre, or makes your mind go blank in the middle of an exam, or prevents you from talking to a certain person for no logical reason, then fear controls you. Given too much reign, we are no longer able to think and do things normally.

When the risen Jesus appears to the disciples behind locked doors this only adds to their fears. Jesus is dead; they had seen it with their own eyes. They panicked. The first thing Jesus addresses is their fear. We are told, "Then Jesus came and stood among them. "Peace be with you," he said. (Then to make doubly sure they get the message) Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you".

This man in front of them shows them the deep wounds in his hands and the gash in his side. And Jesus’ message -
in spite of all that is threatening,
all that is changing,
all that defies human understanding - is simply,
"Be at peace. Relax! Don’t be afraid! I am with you."

When Thomas is confused about the disciples’ claim to have seen Jesus alive and declares that he can’t believe unless he actually touches the scars in Jesus’ hand and side, Jesus appears to him too. And his message is the same. Even in the face of doubt, Jesus says simply, "Peace be with you," and then he gives Thomas what he needs to believe.

Martin Luther, preaching on this same text noted, "Just as Christ did not stay long outside, away from his frightened disciples, but soon was there comforting them and saying: ‘Peace be unto you,’ ‘I am come, be of good cheer and fear not,’ so it is still. When we are afraid, God lifts us up …."

This is how the Easter message works. What God accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. The risen Saviour brings us peace.
When we are downhearted about our sin,
when we are upset about the way we have treated others and especially God,
the risen Christ brings us forgiveness and peace.

When our sins are forgiven and relationships are restored this brings peace to the guilty conscience.
It brings healing and reconciliation between those hurt and offended.
It brings newness and a fresh start.
We have peace of mind because we no longer have to fear the judgement of God on all that we do, say and think that is so contrary to what God wants of us. We say it in our liturgy again and again especially after we have heard that we are forgiven, "Peace be with you!"

The risen Jesus brings us peace when we fear the day of our death, or when we stand at the open grave of a loved one. It is natural and normal for us have this kind of fear but over riding this fear is the sure knowledge that when we pass through the dark valley of death we will enter a glorious new life in eternity.

The risen Christ gives peace when we face times of doubt, confusion, crisis, sickness and grief. The fact that we have a Saviour who is risen from the dead assures us that he is present with us in those times and as King of kings and Lord of lords he is able to support and help us.

There is a lot in life that can make us afraid -
threats to personal safety,
threats to career paths,
threats to the happiness of our families,
threats to our financial security and
threats to our health.
We may be frightened by sickness or by aging.
There are so many things that can cause is to be panicky and afraid.

In every case, in every moment, our Saviour appears to us as one who offers us peace. He is the one who comes through locked doors and lovingly assures the terrified, "Peace be with you!" Jesus offers each of us security, love and peace in the scariest, toughest, most confusing times of our lives. He is the ever-present living Lord and his commitment to us never wavers.

Now we come to an interesting and challenging part of our text. The peace that Jesus gives isn’t just for our private use. He goes on to say, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." To put it simply the peace the risen Saviour gives is to be shared, passed on to those around us who live in fear.

After experiencing God’s peace through what we hear from God through his Word and receive from God through the Sacrament in our worship service, we are challenged to share the peace we have experienced with those who have no peace. There are those who are burdened with guilt, afraid of surgery, old age and dying and need the peace of God in their lives. Jesus commissions each of us to be channels of his peace to others.

"Pass on the peace you have received from me", Jesus tells his 21st century disciples. "Pass on the peace and know that this will make a difference in the lives of individuals, the life of the church and to our community as a whole.

Locked doors could not keep him out. Nothing can. He is present among us today as surely and as fully as he was with the disciples in the locked room on that first Easter. He is here with us to free us from our fears, to speak his peace into our hearts, to forgive our sins, to turn our sorrow into gladness, to bless us, and challenge us to pass on his peace.

His peace be with you always! Let’s turn to the people sitting around us and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th April 2009

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