The first words Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19), indicate HIs entire disposition towards us.
All Jesus does—all He did—has been that we would have peace.
Peace from the effects of sin.
Peace from the terrors of hell.
Peace from the fear of death.
And “when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).
But consider their gladness.
Consider our closest approximations to their gladness.
In the third act of any action film, when the protagonist is all but defeated, he shows up, suddenly and very much alive, and wins the day. We’re glad when that happens, but the hero wasn’t dead to begin with.
When a soldier returns home from war, his mother is glad—because her son did not die.
When a man’s wife returns from the OR, her husband is glad—because his wife did not die.
And the middle-of-the-night coughs and cries of a child gladdens the hearts of parents who prayed without ceasing for that child—because those coughs and cries mean that there is a child.
But these are not the gladness off the ten disciples.
They’re not glad because Jesus returned to them and did not die.
They’re glad because He who died for them has returned to them very much alive.
He shows them His hands and His side.
He shows by what kind of death He died, what kind of sacrifice and death has reconciled them to God.
He shows them—and they’re glad.
For the Christ, who died, now lives.
And, so that the point can’t possibly be missed, Jesus says to them again: “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).
Jesus came to bring peace—and He speaks peace into their fearful hearts such that they are glad.
That Jesus first says, “Peace be with you” shows us His entire disposition towards us, but that He then says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21-23).
That Jesus says this shows us to what end God works: that all would receive this peace, this gladness, in the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus wants you to have peace.
And He causes His Word to be preached to you that you may have peace, that is, that your sins be forgiven in His name.
Now, it was to the ten disciples that Jesus came that night.
Thomas wasn’t there.
And when Thomas hears of their living and risen Lord, he rejects the idea immediately, saying, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).
Perhaps we’re shocked that Thomas responds like this. Certainly, it’s good news he receives, the news, we would think, he and the other disciples had been hoping for if not waiting for.
But remember, this isn’t a story Thomas has been hearing every Sunday at St. Jerusalem Lutheran Church. He didn’t have the benefit of Sunday school to solidify and mature the faith he learned fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago. He isn’t used to the concept of a dead man becoming alive again.
If Jesus is alive, so might have thought Thomas, that might mean that Jesus never died.
So Thomas latches on to two things: His Lord and Christ, Jesus, who was crucified—and—the wounds and stripes by which we are healed.
Perhaps Thomas appreciates the need for patience and deliberation and even disagreement for the sake of argument when everyone else so quickly reverses direction and says and does the same thing.
They were all in hiding. Afraid. And now, so different.
Have they been bewitched, bewildered, or befuddled?
Perhaps Thomas insists upon seeing proof so that the other disciples are not led astray?
Because anything less than or different from the Jesus who was crucified is not their Lord.
Perhaps that was his motivation for insisting on seeing things for himself.
But perhaps Thomas has other and worse motivations.
While we may be shocked that Thomas responds to the good news as he does, and while we may think that we would do differently, consider when your spouse comes home after having fun without you.
Gone for hours—gone for days—and home again and suddenly.
Of course you want to say, “Welcome home! How was it? Tell me everything! Can I get you anything? Look around—I cleaned up the whole house while you were out having fun without me.”
And if that’s not you and your spouse, then it’s you and your sister, you and your brother, you and your friend.
Whenever you perceive you’ve been left behind because you’re not as much fun or just not any fun, of course you want to say all that, but what do you actually say?
Usually nothing, right?
Usually nothing as you stomp around, hoping the proverbial hope that their parade, whatever it was, was rained upon and ruined in every conceivable way.
“That’ll teach you to have fun without me.”
Perhaps Thomas is just like us, or, perhaps we’re just like Thomas—getting our feelings hurt because we’re not included, not in on the plan.
His doubting, to him, could be the only ammunition he has against a Lord who went off and did while he went off and hid.
We think like this, sometimes.
We should rejoice that he who was lost to us—or just gone for a bit—has returned.
Instead, we spurn them for having left in the first place, even if it was for our good.
But do you see how our Lord and Christ responds?
Jesus comes to them again—Thomas, this time, included—and says, again: “Peace be with you” (John 20:26).
Not only do we see God’s disposition here, we see His patience with sinners, with Thomas, with doubters, with you and me.
“Peace be with you.” Even Thomas. And even you.
Then, Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).
We don’t know if Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ side or not, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Thomas and the Ten hear the word of God, “Peace be with you.”
What matters is, they believe the word they hear and have exactly that peace which the Lord gives.
What matters is that they take that peace unto all the world, forgiving and retaining sin, so that we would be certain that Jesus, who was crucified, now lives.
What matters is, they preach the grace and peace of God to you all such that you have it—peace.
Peace from the fear of death given to you by a savior who overcame death.
Peace from the terrors of hell given to you by a savior who descended into hell, preaching His victory.
Peace from the effects of sin given to you by a savior who forgives sin and raises the faithful to life.
What matters is they preach the peace of God and you believe it unto life everlasting.
We need that peace.
We need that peace, because modern movies are reluctant to kill their darlings—there’s too much money to be made.
We need that peace, because not every soldier returns home from war alive into the embrace of his doting mother.
We need that peace, because not every wife returns from the operating room alive into the embrace of her doting husband.
We need that peace, because not every child makes it through the night.
We need the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.
And we have it—because Jesus—who was crucified—who died and now lives—we, who believe in Him, have peace, and though we die, though we look Death in the face a hundred times in our life or only once—though we die, yet shall we live, because Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
And He means it.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt