Sermon: Gerhard Weissennbrunner
John 20, 19-31 I’m sending you like my father has sent me…
I am not sure whether I can understand the situation in which the disciplines found themselves in. The crucifixion and death of Jesus must have hit them hard. Moreover, it was a catastrophe.
What a defeat! For three years they had travelled with Jesus through the provinces. They witnessed the signs and miracles. They had heard, were instructed in and understood the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. And not only that. They had also experienced in everyday situations that one can live according to them. Yes, just as Jesus lived it by example, so the kingdom of God, which they so desperately searched for, ought to be. With Jesus, their Messiah, they found it.
Well, suddenly they’re alone. Their teacher and bearer of hope is gone. Were they wrong? Had they been deceived? Was it in vain that they followed their master? For three years!
Frightened and scared of the jews they locked themselves in. Some had already fled. Thomas was no longer with them. Judas killed himself. What will happen next?
Suddenly the almost unfathomable happens. Jesus appears among them. And he says: “Peace be with you”. Jesus shows them his wounds, his hands and his side. “It is by his wounds that the risen one is recognised.” Without doubt, their Lord is again with them. He has returned. The one who was believed dead has risen. And when they saw the Lord they were rejoicing again.
Once again Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you!” This promise of peace should help the disciples to overcome their fear. These words are not just empty words. They are reminders of Jesus’ prophecies, like in the scene of John 14:27 when Jesus says: “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” And the words of peace are rooted in the last words of Jesus on the cross: “it is done!” And the promise of God at Christmas: “Peace on Earth among those people with whom he is pleased!” was fulfilled by Jesus at Easter at the latest.
Pastor Esther Handschin pointed out this special aspect in her sermon on Palm Sunday. When entering Jerusalem the companions of Jesus called (Lk. 19:31): “Blessed is he, the king, who comes in the name of the Lord. And peace in heaven!” In contrast, the angels sing at Christmas that with Jesus’ birth peace found a place on earth. With Jesus peace comes from heaven to earth.
In recent times we (Hilde and I) have been to the cemetery more often than usual. And when I walk past the graves, I often read this comforting sentence: “Rest in peace!” People’s hope for a peaceful life is great. And if peace is not possible on earth, then at least there should be peace in heaven.
Through Jesus, we learn that real inner peace already exists during our lifetime. Not a lazy peace in indifference or in bearing oppression. No, but a state liberated from guilt and injustice and reconciled with God. A state that may also be called heavenly peace.
Recently, two teenagers asked me: “do you believe in life after death?” I replied: “yes, and also in a life before death. Because I live with Jesus Christ!”
Back to the text! Jesus connects his mission with the passing of the peace:”Just as the father has sent me, I am now sending you!” Strange! It almost sounds like an equation. If God has sent Jesus to bring peace to the world, now Jesus is sending the disciples to do the same.
And then, in the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that they were not afraid to act like Jesus. Like Jesus before them, they were teaching and healing. Though never in their own name, but in the name of Jesus. Yet on their own account they courageously reprimanded the Pharisees and scribes. Peter’s famous statement: “We must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29)” pervades the whole history of Christianity. That’s what they learned from Jesus and that’s what they put into practice.
But what convinced them and made them so strong that they so passionately spread the message of Jesus?
After Jesus had promised them his peace, he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit!” There is no talk of roar and earthquakes like at Pentecost. But of a breath, God’s breath, of which we read in the account of the creation (Gen 2:7): “then the LORD God formed a human of dust from the ground and breathed into him the breath of life.” It is the breath of life, the Ruach, it is the Holy Spirit, which turns a human being back into a human being, as he or she was intended to be since the beginning of the creation.
The breath of Jesus and the breath of God is one and the same. “The Holy Spirit, who is Lord and makes alive, who emerges from the Father and the Son, who is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son (from Nicene Creed).” “The Holy Spirit, who made us sons and daughters and by whom we cry when we pray: “Abba, Father!” Yes, the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8.15-16).”
The disciples of Jesus did not grant themselves the Holy Spirit. No one can grant the Holy Spirit to themselves. It happened to them through Jesus Christ. But it did not happen without their consent. The condition was their desire to surrender to God.
It’s no different today. It requires devotion. The shortest creed was that from the apostle Thomas, when the Risen One stood before him. Thomas said to Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”
Where people go in the spirit of God and spread the good news of Jesus Christ, something new happens. Peace, joy and justice become the focus of the community. People stop being violent. People stop throwing stones at each other.
Those who are guilty should realise that their victim has to suffer, but that they themselves bear the blame for their behaviour. How many people suffer heavily from their guilt all the time. But where someone has become guilty, not their condemnation but reconciliation should become the goal. No peace without forgiveness!
I am not surprised when the churches are empty. They are adding to people’s feeling of guilt. They fuel guilt and emphasise: “yes, you are guilty!” They still put a load on those who are already bending over, so that they fall to the ground. Instead of lifting them up and saying: “You are not guilty, there is a God who has taken all guilt upon Himself!”
In the spirit of God people say: “Reconcile with God!” God Himself offers reconciliation beyond all understanding and against all justified thought.
The recent Good Friday discussions show that most people no longer even know the meaning of Good Friday.
“On Good Friday God declares Himself guilty of the world and thereby extinguishes the guilt of the world. On Good Friday, God Himself starts the reconciliation process and frees the world from blame on His own accord. He Himself represents the godlessness, the hatred, the sinner. God has now taken everything upon Himself, suffered and atoned. Now there is no longer a world that is not reconciled with God and is not at peace. God did this through his dear Son Jesus Christ. (from Dietrich Bonhoeffer)”
The proof for this is the presence of the Risen One, who through the Holy Spirit still speaks to his disciples today: “Peace be with you! As my Father sent me so I also send you. Live the peace that I give you and share it with your neighbours!” Amen