Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20:19,20
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. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord.

Unlocking the doors

Locked doors are very much part of our everyday lives. When we get out of our car at the shopping centre the last thing we do before we walk away is lock our car doors. We lock our cars even in our own driveways at home.

When you came to church this morning you locked the doors of your house and garage.
The last person to leave the church this morning will make sure that all the doors are locked.
Every night we have security people walk around the school checking that all the doors are locked and that they remain locked throughout the night.
There are locks on our letter boxes.
We put locks on our bags when we are travelling.
People install security devices and locks on their homes and businesses.

Why is there so much emphasis on locks these days? It hasn’t always been like this. Some older people recall the days when they never locked their house when they went to church on Sundays or even left their car doors unlocked as they went shopping. In the past churches were left unlocked so that anyone at any time could come in for a quiet time of meditation and prayer.

Why do we have so many locked doors? Because we are afraid. We are afraid of what other people might do. I bet as I have been talking about locked doors some of you have been doing a quick mental check whether you did actually lock your house and car doors. No one did a quick exit so I presume everyone is happy that all is safe and secure.

The first disciples hid behind locked doors "because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities."
They hid
out of fear of being identified with the man on the cross between two criminals;
out of fear of being treated as Jesus was – beaten and crucified for being a heretic or a traitor.
To keep out the world, they locked the doors.

But it made no difference. The doors were locked but fear still filled their hearts. The doors were locked but Jesus just walked right in. He walked right in and he said to those who were filled with fear, "Peace be with you."

We know that peace and fear don’t exist side by side. When we are afraid we are restless and sensitive to anything that might threaten us. When we are at peace there is nothing that bothers us at all.

Jesus came among the fearful disciples and said, "Peace be with you". Peace is not so much a state of mind as a state of being. Peace is a gift. It is a gift from God.
Peace is a calmness and quiet even in the midst of danger.
Peace is not escape from danger but faces it and still feels at peace.
Peace is the absence of fear – it is confidence in the face surgery and dangerous illnesses – confidence in the face of death that Jesus is our saviour who is waiting to welcome us to eternal life.

But peace was something that was not felt in the locked upper room where the disciples were gathered. They knew already that Jesus was risen -
Peter and John had ventured out to see the tomb -
the women had told them about the empty tomb, and were amazed at what Mary Magdalene had to tell them about the appearance of Jesus in the Garden near the tomb.

Over the previous years, they had been given a wonderful insight into who Jesus was as they witnessed his many great miracles.
Peter had himself managed to walk on water with the help of Jesus,
and every one of the 12 faithful followers had brought healing to the sick in his name,
each one had commanded demons to come out of the possessed,
and many more had eaten of the bread that seemed to never end, the bread and the fish brought to Jesus by a small boy to help feed a crowd of thousands.

The disciples had witnessed and taken part in so much and there was still more to come.

The same man who died on the cross appeared to them and not only blessed them, saying "Peace be with you"; he not only told them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you"; but also he breathed on them and said "Receive the Holy Spirit". And by his presence - by his command - by the breath of live in him, he gave the breath of life to them. He gave his peace to those who were afraid. He gave power to those who felt powerless.

What a difference came over them when Jesus appeared to them, chatted and ate with them, let them touch him. They suddenly became different people. Their fears and doubts were replaced with joy, peace and boldness as the resurrection of Jesus became a reality.

After church services ended last Sunday – Easter Sunday, what did we do?
Did the story of our Lord's resurrection change our lives in any way?
Or did we simply go about our business, content to leave Easter where we had found it - inside the church where we had worshipped?
Is not every Sunday supposed to be a reminder of Easter, thus a Sunday of Easter?
You have probably noted by now that the Bulletin says that this is the Second Sunday of Easter. It is not the Second Sunday after Easter as if to say that Easter is finished with and these are the Sundays that follow. This is a Sunday of Easter.
Is not every day an Easter Day for the Christian as the peace and joy of the risen Saviour effects everything we say and do and everything that happens to us during every day? The Easter celebration is a continuous celebration. Jesus Christ rose from the dead to bring us peace, to make changes in our lives that are drastic and lasting.

You see, unless the risen Christ makes a difference in our lives then our celebrations last weekend were in vain. Unless the risen Christ is at the heart and centre of the church, it is an empty place. Apart from the Spirit that Jesus breaths upon us we are hollow vessels - with nothing to offer - nothing of significance to share, no different in the end than any other social agency or service club. We can offer all kinds of programs and groups and services for people of all walks of life and age groups but it is the risen Christ that changes the hearts and lives of us and the people we serve.

We heard earlier how the risen Christ changed Thomas. He had said, "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe." The risen Lord appeared to him and invited him to put his fingers in the scars on Jesus’ hands and to feel the wound in his side. Suddenly Thomas was changed from doubt to a firm faith. Finally, Easter had sunk in and Thomas’ life was changed. In fact, all the disciples were affected by the Easter victory and came out from behind locked doors and began to preach the good news to all who would listen.

Easter changes people’s lives.
We see the power of Easter when we witness an infant, so small and helpless, receive forgiveness, new life, eternal life through the water of baptism. The risen Lord and Saviour welcomes that child into his family – his kingdom.

We see the power of Easter as we repent of the evil in our lives, and the new life and faith that we were given at our baptism shine through as we seek to show love and care in everything we say and do.

We see the power of Easter affecting our lives when we are drawn to make peace and be reconciled to someone with whom we have had a falling out. Easter peace replaces all bad feeling and hostility.

We see the power of Easter at work when faith becomes real and active in everything we do. Our religion isn’t just something for Sundays or Christmas and Easter. We are changed. Like Thomas, we are led to a commitment, and a trust in Jesus that affects us every day in everything we say and do.

We see the power of Easter at work in us when battling the horrible ravages of disease, and we feel the peace that overcomes all fear because we know that the risen Jesus provides the strength and the help we need at this time before we enter eternity free of pain.

We see the power of Easter at work as death draws near. Fear is banished and replaced with the assurance that when we close our eyes for the last time we will be taken to heaven. Easter gives the peace that comes from knowing death is not the end, but the beginning of something far better than we could ever imagine.

We see the power of Easter as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not the dead Jesus that we take into our bodies but the risen Lord. Fear of God’s anger and punishment are replaced with Easter peace - our guilty consciences are made clean; our sin disappears; we are forgiven.

The celebration and the good feelings of Easter Sunday may be seven days ago in the past; Easter may seem to be over for 2011, but in reality Easter is not over. The man who rose from the grave - the Risen Christ - is still with us. He has brought a change into our lives and challenges us to live that change every moment of every day.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
1st May 2011

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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