Second Sunday of Easter

by Crossings

E= (L = FoS = P)
Easter = (Life = Forgiveness of Sins = Peace)
John 20:19-31
Second Sunday of Easter
analysis by Cathy Lessmann (based on Ed Schroeder’s analysis)

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Writers Note: I used mathematical symbols in the title on purpose, hoping to evoke memories of “e=mc2” and the significance thereof. E, for Easter, incorporates both the crucified and resurrected Jesus. The other three symbols are put in parenthesis meaning they are synonyms of each other, and together they equal E. There is another symbol I wish I could have used but my computer won’t let me, and that is the forward arrow which in scientific formulas means “results in” or “leads to.” I would have used that symbol in the headings of Steps 5 and 6 instead of an equal sign.

Diagnosis: Still Captive to the Power of Death

Step 1 — Initial Diagnosis: Locked up = Peace-Less = Fear-Full
Jesus has risen from the tomb, the disciples have heard that astonishing news from the women, but still, they’re huddled behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” (v. 19) Obviously then, Thomas is not the only “doubter” in this story (shortly we’ll see it’s not simply doubt that’s displayed here but outright unbelief). The disciples (minus Thomas) are boarded up, locked up, tyrannized by their fear of the Jews — i.e., those peoples and powers which signal death for them. How else can they act if they’re still “ruled” by these death-gripped powers? But then, how different are we disciples today, even after we’ve just heard (Easter was only last week!) that Jesus is risen from the grave? How much do our anxious and fearful lives (peace-less to be sure!) betray our own captivity to those very same rulers, the powers and principalities of death?

Step 2 — Advanced Diagnosis: Fear-Full = Faith-Less
Back on the Mount, Jesus had defined fear and anxiety as being the opposite of faith– “Oh you little-faiths” he called worried, anxious, fearful people. (Matt. 6:30) The problem with worry, with fear-full living is that it signals a lordship of the wrong gods, it’s the exact opposite of trust in God, the father of Jesus. The disciples’ fear — and ours too?– is the stark manifestation of their/our unbelief. Poor Thomas has been stigmatized and labeled over the centuries, but really, he is just more blatant about his un-faith when he declares, “I will not believe!” (v 25) Hence by his own words, he’s not just “doubting” Thomas, but “unbelieving” Thomas — an unbelief which centers not so much around whether or not Jesus came back from the dead as about whether or not a crucified and resurrected Jesus could possibly replace his old rulers as “Lord.”

Step 3 — Final Diagnosis: Faith-Less = Life-Less
How serious is such “not believing,” of confessing the wrong “lords?” Our gospel writer John’s answer is that it is deadly. Literally. And in every way we can possibly think of, both eternally and presently, as in “this is a living hell.” John explains that to not believe is to not “have Life in his name.” (v. 31) It seems that in the end, God doesn’t force us, he respects our choice of rulers and leaves us to them. He makes sure of it. But the awful truth (and we know it!) is that these “lords” are anything but “benefactors!” Their “gifts” to us are only tyranny, desolation, fear-full living, and annihilation — all in stark contrast to the gifts which the Eastered Lord — a genuine “benefactor”– bestows: Life, God’s own Peace,God’s Forgiveness of Sins, God’s Holy Spirit.

Prognosis: Rolling Back the Power of Death

Step 4 — Initial Prognosis: Jesus Death = Unbelievers’ Life
The Good News that John earnestly writes about so that unbelievers (like the disciples, like us) might have Life, (v. 31) is that God’s Number One Son, Jesus, broke into the realm of death — initially in last weekend’s Good Friday when he took our death on himself and then trumped it Easter morning when God raised him back to life, proving that he is conqueror of all alternate lords, powers and principalities. But not only has Jesus broken into the realm of death –past tense– but he still breaks — present tense– into fear-filled, peace-less lives, just as he did with the disciples when he so simply “came and stood among them” (v. 19). Jesus offers them “peace,” — peace with God which they (and we) finally understand has been earned by the suffering and death his wounded hands and side give evidence to.

Step 5 — Advanced Diagnosis: Believing = Life (as in “appropriating” that Life)
Notice how Jesus doesn’t wait for the disciples to first express their contrition and repentance before he says “Peace be with you” –your sins are forgiven. He just comes to them and offers them peace, and that changes them. Thomas immediately confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (v 28). He and the disciples — and us too! — in the simple act of believing receive a new “Lord” becoming recipients not only of “the life in his name,” but also of all the other gifts this benevolent Lord gives: peace, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus “breathed on them” [that is, the disciples who got to see him] saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22) he gives us today that same Holy Spirit, but with a special blessing for “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v. 29) You might say that Jesus’ “peace” greeting — which equals the forgiveness of sins, which equals life, which equals the Holy Spirit — is the catalyst that evokes contrition, repentance and belief in disciples.

Step 6 — Final Diagnosis: J(fos)u = b (fos)b + u
translation: Jesus’ forgiveness of sins of believers = (results in) believers’ forgiveness of sins of believers and unbelievers Having recognized Jesus as “Lord and God,” the disciples’ respond with joy! (v 20) We too. But that’s not the end of story. Newly-freed subjects of the Easter Lord are given the exact same task which Jesus himself was entrusted with — to go out and forgive sins! “As the Father has sent me, so I send you ….If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (v. 23) In this way, “peace” is delivered to “peace-less” lives. We present-day disciples forgive each others’ sins weekly when we literally “exchange the peace” in our worship services. [In the large catechism, Martin Luther explains that this is the way the Holy Spirit keeps us from being harmed by sin — “we forgive, bear with, and aid one another.”] And then we go out into our worlds, break into the walled-up, fear-filled, peace-less lives we encounter and declare “the peace of the (Easter) Lord be with you!” — your sins are forgiven — here’s LIFE for you and you and you.


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