Sunday, April 11, 2010

C, Easter 2 - John 20:19-31 "The Peace of His Presence"

Text John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Picture a large number of cows or ewes separated from their young. The instinct which draws mother and infant together is powerful and those who live on farms know only too well, what the results are when the mothers are separated from their young.

In some places the mothers are let out to feed during the day while the young are held back in yards or pens. They are locked behind even in the daytime to protect them from predators which all too willing would venture out in broad daylight making a meal of the fragile young animals. These predators might be dingoes, wolves, bears, lions or hyenas, etc.…

As the mothers are drafted out to pasture in the morning, separation anxiety between mother and child is the cause of much noise and drama. Sometimes, hell hath no fury like an angry old cow determined to get back with her calf. There is nothing great enough to stop her returning to her calf; the toughest fence, the most aggressive cattle dog, the loudest whip or the bloke swinging the whip—no matter how brave he might seem—is good enough to stop her returning to her calf.

The commotion of bellowing cows and calves, barking dogs, whips cracking and swearing graziers, creates a coarse din which might be heard some distance away. But after a while an unsteady calm falls over the pen while the mothers are off filling their bellies with fodder and their udders with milk.

There was an unsteady calm over the disciples as they hid in behind locked doors, fearing the Jews might be looking for them since Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The Jewish leaders had incited the crowd to a feverish pitch of murderous excitement, and anything might happen if they were caught out in the open. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus had risen, but they have not seen him yet. How hard it was for them to believe that he was alive, let alone the crowds that cried out, ‘crucify him, crucify him’. After all there was talk around that the disciple might steal his body to make it look like he had risen.

But Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed! He stood amongst the disciples and greeted them with the words, ‘Peace be with you’. In fact he greeted them three times with this blessing, twice on his first appearance and the third time in front of Thomas. Jesus brought peace to the disciple through his word, and he brought peace by breathing the Holy Spirit on them. He brought peace to his disciples through his presence when he breathed on them.

Back at the cow yard, as the day is coming to a close, the unsteady calm has grown to restlessness and the crescendo of cow calling reaches fever pitch once again. Calves starving for a feed expectantly call to their mothers and cows with engorged udders hear the calls and respond. As the gate is opened the calves spill from the yard to meet their mothers in the laneway. And yet again there is a commotion of bellowing, barking and bad language as the farmer and his dogs tries to push the herd back into the yards from where the calves came. One could say there is udder madness at this point in time!

For some time after the cows and calves are reunited as a group, the mob swirls like a cyclone as calves and cows dance around each other calling and smelling, seeking the one they were separated from earlier that day. Mother cows breath on the calves, smelling them before either accepting them and letting them drink or thumping them out of the way as they pursue their calves so they can off load their life source of milk. Once all cows and calves find each other a hush of peace come over the yard as the young suckle and then settle down beside their mothers for the night.

Similarly Jesus, who has been separated from his disciples by death, returns to them. They smell his breath as he stands before them; they receive peace through his word. It nourishes them and it gives them confidence; even greater than before he was crucified on the cross. They are feed by his word, and given the Holy Spirit. Just like the calf, which wouldn’t survive without its mother’s milk, the disciples and the church wouldn’t have survived without the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the nourishment he gave, and continues to give, through the fact that he is risen and the fact that he continually bestows the Holy Spirit on his church today through his word and sacraments.

There is peace in the church because he is risen, and because he is with us in his word and physically with us in the bread and wine. There is peace because he has given us the Holy Spirit to continue the care and nurture he gave to the disciples on that night when he stood and breathed the Holy Spirit into them through his word.

And the church needs the peace of the Risen Lord! Why? Because without it we have no hope and are left in the commotion of our sin. Peace is only truly noticed after turmoil, and our turmoil is our sin. Jesus died for our sin and rose, and this is our hope and our confidence. Sin and death no longer have any power even though they are still a part in our lives. That is what the turmoil of Good Friday and the peace of Easter is all about.

Jesus was taken away in death but in that death he took away sin, that’s what all the commotion was all about. And like a cow crashing back through the fence to its calf, the Lord was raised and entered the locked doors reuniting himself with his disciples where they hid, and once there he nourished them with his presence and the Holy Spirit.

So today we give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:29) Because he is risen, and for those who believe, our thanks not only goes to him for providing our earthly needs, but our thanks will be ongoing into eternity because even now our risen Lord Jesus Christ sustains us with his spiritual blessings through the Holy Spirit as he breathes on us through his Word.

Like a cow seeking her calf the Lord is risen, he enters our presence, seeking those who carry his scent of faith and lives with and in us and gives us his peace. We may thank God for our earthly harvest, but we are his heavenly harvest and for this we can be even more thankful. Surely this is what Easter is all about. He is risen, let his steadfast love and his peace rest upon you forever! Amen.