When 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."
How much did the disciples need to hear those words from Jesus? That is a good question to ask on this day, as the Church concludes the week-long formal celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Hearing the Evangelist’s description of the events in the Upper Room, remember that he recalls what he himself witnessed. Note well that John records the final appearance of the Risen Christ at the end of a long, confusing, hectic day.
The day began with what you heard last Sunday: “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.” With that discovery, the entire lives of Christ’s followers changed forever. The women’s discovery of the Empty Tomb, their report of the angels’ words—“Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!”— confound the reason of everyone who heard and saw. Christ’s Resurrection is but the first of many events on that Easter Sunday that caused everyone to search their memories of His words, to reassess their confession of His identity, to reexamine what they truly believe about Him.
So it was for the Eleven. They heard the report of the women, but as St. Luke told you: “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Then Peter goes himself to the tomb, and “stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” An even more wondrous thing happens that afternoon, as the Risen Christ finds two of His followers walking the road to Emmaus. He speaks with them, explaining everything that happened in His life, including all the events that took place in
John’s Gospel moves the events forward. He takes you back to the safe house where the apostles were hiding, where fear and doubt reigned. Even Peter, who had seen the empty tomb and believed Jesus was risen, goes back into seclusion. The Evangelist tells you the disciples were afraid: “the doors of the house were locked for fear of the Jews.” Despite all the amazing events of the day and the news of their Lord’s resurrection, the closest followers of Jesus had bunkered themselves. The stone of Christ’s tomb may have been rolled away, but the doors of the Upper Room remained tightly shut.
But why are they afraid? What causes their fear? Perhaps it stems from the fact they had not seen the Risen Christ. Perhaps they ultimately doubted everything that had been told them, finally convinced that the women’s reports were false. After all, there were many reasons why the tomb could have been left empty: most of all an ill-designed attempt to “raise Jesus.” And if the Jewish authorities had heard about it, just what would they think? They had killed Jesus. Certainly anything that smelled like a hoax being pulled by His disciples would not go unpunished. The clubs and torches of the Gethesmane arrest were still available for another use. The “idle tale” of the women might bring very real consequences.
Right into that setting of doubt and fear, Jesus appears. He manifests Himself to the disciples. He doesn’t bother knocking, but appears right in the middle of the room. The locked doors cannot prevent Him from standing in the presence of His disciples. And when He opens His mouth, Jesus plainly speaks to His followers: “Peace be with you.”
Those four words—or two Greek words—from Jesus summarize everything had happened during that first day of the week after His crucifixion. Though immediately it might not seem that way to you. Jesus’ statement might not seem complete. But in truth, it is. It is a greeting, but so much more than that. Nothing more needed to be said by Jesus, even though
What else were the events of Christ’s life all about? For what other purpose did the events in
The Lord’s words are never idle or empty. It is especially so when He speaks about His purpose, His mission. His words revealed the purpose of His death. Jesus goes to die, in order to save the people. He is crucified, in order to draw all people to Himself. He is sacrificed, in order that sinful humanity can be absolved and reconciled to God the Father. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, peace is made, fellowship is restored. So it is that when the Risen Jesus appears in the midst of the locked room and beholds the faces of the men who had run away, who had abandoned Him, who had denied even knowing Him, He speaks those direct and powerful words: “Peace be with you.”
The disciples’ sins of dread, desertion, denial, and doubt: they are all waved away by Christ’s absolution—the forgiveness achieved through His suffering, death, and resurrection. Everything that Jesus had all right to hold against His disciples is dismissed by Him. And this has a great effect. The Evangelist tells us: “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” But the peace and joy given by Christ are not limited to those in that locked room. They are given to each of you who commit the same sins as those first followers of Jesus. Your Lord comes into your presence, bringing the same greeting, declaring the same message: “Peace be with you.”
When your Lord first encounters you through Holy Baptism, He greets you by saying: “Peace be with you.” Jesus says to you: “Peace be with you through My death and My resurrection. Peace be with you through the washing of regeneration, as My Spirit is granted to you. Peace be with you, as your sins are rinsed away.” Your Lord breaks through the locked doors of your sinful, corrupt, dead human natures. And when He does, you are reconciled to the Father by Him. There is great effect caused by His words. Unbelief is removed; faith is found in its place.
When your Lord encounters you again in Holy Absolution, the greeting is the same: “Peace be with you.” Christ speaks to you: “Peace be with you, as your sinful actions are declared null and void. Peace be with you, as the doors of heaven are unlocked for you. Peace be with you, as I acknowledge you as My disciples.” There is great effect caused by His words. Your Lord forgives you, extending the actions of the cross and the empty tomb to each of us over and over again.
And when your Lord encounters you in the Sacrament of the Altar, the greeting is the same: “Peace be with you.” He welcomes each of you: “Peace be with you, as you are invited to partake of the new testament. Peace be with you, as you receive My Body given in death for the life of the world and My Blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” There is great effect in His words. Like the apostles in the Upper Room, you are enabled to see Christ’s hands and feet which were pierced for you, as He presents Himself among you by making bread and wine become His life-giving Body and Blood for your salvation.
That is what your Lord Jesus Christ does even today, fulfilling the purpose of His suffering, death, and resurrection for each of you individually. Just like the dreading, deserting, doubting, denying disciples desperately needed to hear those words from Jesus, so do you. When faced with your sin and unbelief, there is great fear. When everything looks lost or pointless, there is cause for doubt. When faced with opposition, there is plenty of opportunity for denial. The events of Holy Week are replayed over and over again in your lives.
Your experience is the same as the Eleven, for you are no different than those apostles in the locked room. You need to hear your Lord speak. You must hear His voice to know that you have not been banished by Him, but are still counted as His followers. You must hear His voice to know that He still regards you as heirs of His salvation and everlasting life. You must hear His voice to know that the whole enterprise of discipleship isn’t vain and empty. And your Lord doesn’t fail to deliver.
So you learn from the account of that first Easter evening and the night one week later. He repeats the event again and again. For even now, your Lord Jesus brings His greeting: “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven. Your faults and failures are forgotten. I am your Lord and God, and You are My people.” May you be willing to hear these gracious words from Christ Jesus, especially when tempted to hide yourselves from your Lord’s presence in doubt and unbelief. For there is great effect in His words; through them you are forgiven and through them you are given everlasting life.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.