Second Sunday of Easter (B)
April 11, 2021
Text: John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
When the risen Lord Jesus Christ appeared in the midst of His disciples that Easter evening, (not, incidentally, sneaking in through a back door or a window, but revealing Himself as He stood among them, which is where He always is… in the midst of His disciples)… When He appeared in their midst, He immediately preached, in one word, the earthshaking, cosmos-altering, eternal result of His resurrection from the dead: “Peace.” Εἰρήνη in Greek, but we really should do it in Hebrew, as Jesus almost undoubtedly spoke the liturgical word to His beloved friends, to His Church, as they were huddled together in fear behind locked doors: שָׁלוֹם. Shalom… “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV). And then, that they may see the flesh and blood reality of this Shalom, He showed them His hands and His side, as though to say, “See, it really is me. Here is the evidence of your peace. I was crucified. Here are my mortal wounds. But now I am risen. I live, and I stand among you now, with my risen and living Body.” And then as they rejoice upon seeing the Lord, He says it again, Shalom, peace… “Peace be with you” (v. 21).
Shalom is a Hebrew word with which the Jews regularly greet one another, hello or goodbye. It means “peace,” to be sure, but the meaning is so much broader than that, and in no sense superficial. Nor is it only sentimental, a wish that you feel peace in your heart. It is rather the objective conferral of peace, and a declaration of blessing from God; in particular, the concrete reality of the Aaronic benediction (Numb. 6:24-26). The LORD’s blessing and keeping you, His making His face (which is to say, Jesus) shine on you and be gracious to you, His lifting up His countenance upon you, His placing His three-fold Name on you (the LORD, the LORD, the LORD), results in the giving of His Peace, His Shalom, to you. And this is the cross shaped reality that you now have peace (Shalom) with God, and therefore peace (Shalom) with one another. And, as a result, God enacts Shalom within you concretely, body and soul. That is, He grants you wholeness, health, prosperity, tranquility, and overall general welfare, all of which are aspects of that one word, Shalom.
But what all too quickly became a pious wish for mere temporal peace and welfare in that Old Testament time of type and shadow of the good things to come, the risen Jesus here unpacks for us in all its Easter fulness. For this Shalom is not simply the hope that you are well, and that all goes well for you in the coming days. It is a Shalom that is fulfilled and complete in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; a Shalom in which we already partake as those baptized into Christ, forgiven of our sins, and who feast on God’s Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world; and a Shalom we will know in all its fulness when Christ comes again and raises us from the dead, whole, healthy, prosperous, tranquil, and in every sense of the word, well.
Shalom is Jesus, crucified, risen, and present in the midst of His disciples. Shalom is what Jesus sends out on the lips of His Apostles and Christian preachers, and in the confession of every Christian baptized into Christ. Shalom is the breath of New Creation as Jesus breathes His Holy Spirit into you (and you know the double-entendre there, spirit, wind, and breath all being the same word in Greek [πνεῦμα], and the same word in Hebrew [רוּחַ]). Shalom, in its most elementary form, is simply this: The forgiveness of sins. The Holy Absolution. Jesus bestows Shalom on His disciples by appearing in their midst and announcing that He is at peace with them, that He does not hold their sins against them, including their sins of deserting Him, of Peter denying Him, of their failure to believe His Promise that these things must happen, that He would be rejected by the Chief Priests and elders and scribes, suffer and die, and on the Third Day rise again. In other words, He forgives their sins. He casts out their fear, that great anti- Shalom, because in Him there is now no condemnation. And that means the end of death, and the very tyranny of the devil.
Thus this Shalom, as it breaks into this fallen creation in the flesh of Jesus, has very real consequences for the health and welfare of humanity, body and soul. Jesus demonstrates this throughout His earthly ministry. He grants wholeness and health. He opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. He loosens the tongues of the mute and makes the lame to walk. He heals withered hands and cleanses lepers and raises the dead to life. And He prospers His people, which is not to say that He showers them with riches, but He provides for them. Manna in the wilderness. Our daily bread. Feeding thousands on a few loaves and fish. Everyone satisfied. The Lord will take care of His people. And He grants them tranquility. He casts out demons and preaches the Good News to the poor. Objective peace: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 8:2). You have peace with God, who no longer holds your sins against you; and therefore, as a result, you have peace with your brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom, and you can be a peacemaker in the world. And subjective peace: Knowing that this is the case, let not your heart be troubled. What do you have to worry about? God is for you, and not against you. All this will turn out well in the End.
That’s right, these things are a glimpse of the reality of Shalom in all its fulness on the Last Day, when the risen Christ comes again in glory, and raises us from the dead. For all those Jesus healed and raised in His earthly ministry had to get sick and die again. Their temporal relief was just that: temporal. But on that Day, it will be Shalom everlasting. And until that Day, it is the continuous partaking of Shalom in Absolution and the preaching of the Gospel, in the continual return to our Baptism into Christ, in Jesus’ bodily presence in our midst, hidden under bread and wine. For finally, the risen Lord Jesus is our Shalom Incarnate. To be with Him is to have Shalom. Jesus is our flesh and blood Peace. So maybe this is a pretty good word with which to greet one another. To speak the Shalom of God upon another is to declare that you are at peace with them for Christ’s sake, because God is at peace with us for Christ’s sake, and eternal life awaits all of us who believe in Him for Christ’s sake. To greet another with God’s Shalom, is to greet them with Christ.
Now, like Thomas, we may think that only seeing the risen Jesus for ourselves can bring us true peace. Thomas did not believe the testimony of the Apostles, which is a grievous sin. But the Lord had mercy upon him, as He does upon us in all our doubts and sins. And once again, the ever-present Lord Jesus visibly stood among His disciples and announced His Shalom, “Peace be with you” (John 20:26). “I forgive you your doubt, Thomas. Now, go ahead. Poke around in my wounds. Take a good, long look, and be no longer disbelieving, but believing. Because you are my Apostle, my eyewitness, you receive a gift that most people will not receive. You get to see me with your own eyes before my glorious return. But blessed are those who do not see, and yet they believe. Because they hear your testimony. They hear the apostolic preaching and the Holy Absolution. They receive the Scriptures, which are written that they may believe that I am the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they may have life and Shalom in my Name.”
You do not see. You hear. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). But then, by hearing, the eyes of faith are opened to what your fleshly eyes cannot see. For example, do you really think it is by accident that we enjoy better health, greater prosperity, unprecedented overall wellness and human freedom, since the resurrection of Christ, than anyone could have dreamed of before? Can you imagine these things happening before the advent of our Lord, His ministry, His death, His resurrection? Or apart from His Body, the Church? These things are all embodied in Christ, who heals what is broken, fills what is empty, and looses from all that binds. These are signs of the Shalom to come, and the Shalom we already have in the risen Christ Jesus. They are signs, just as the miracles were signs. Now, these signs may be taken away from us at any time, and if they are, we well deserve it. For we have mistaken the signs for the real thing, and instead of thanking God for the gift of these signs, and trusting Him for His true Shalom, we believe that we are making a true heaven on earth by our own effort, our own ingenuity, and our own brilliance. It would serve us right if God destroyed all of that in a moment, because it has become our idol. But let it not be so with you. See the signs for what they are. Gifts of God’s grace. To be received with thanksgiving and enjoyed. To be looked beyond in faith for the full reality to be revealed in the coming of Jesus Christ.
And that is why the true medicine you need is right here. Here you are, gathered together, with all your sins and fears. And here Jesus reveals His presence in your midst under bread and wine on the Altar. And what does He say to you when He thus reveals Himself? “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” “Shalom. Your sins are forgiven. You are healed from all that ails you. I am making you whole. I am giving you life.” And so He does. And so you confess: My Lord, and my God. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! And He is present, here and now, for you. Shalom. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.