Easter 2 – St. John 20:19-31
The disciples are dead.
Not literally mind you, those gathered are all very much alive as they sit in the locked room on that first Easter Sunday evening, but you certainly would not know it.
The last time we saw them together they were running away in fear in the Garden of Gethsemane; Peter and John followed Jesus to the trial and then John stood at the foot of the cross. Both Peter and John ran to the tomb early that morning.
But now? Now that the tomb is empty? Now that Mary has actually seen Jesus alive? Now that Jesus has passed along word that the disciples are to head to Galilee?
All we see are the disciples completely paralyzed by fear.
Granted the disciples have good reason to be afraid – Jesus was killed, and one can only assume that they are next. To make matters worse, the tomb was empty, meaning the hunt for the body, and the most likely suspects is on. If found, by the Jews especially, but even if found by the Romans, the disciples will find themselves literally dead, even though they were just as surprised as everyone else by the report of the women.
But for now they are just figuratively dead. To paralyzed by fear to leave the house. To overcome with grief to encounter anyone on the streets. To dazed and confused by all that has happened to even begin to make sense of it all. To overcome with guilt to even try to explain it to others. The disciples may not be dead; but even the dead have more coherence and bravery then do those gathered here behind locked doors.
Sin does that you know. We mostly think of sin as just going out and engaging in wrongful activities, marking you dead in your trespasses. But sin is also hiding under the covers; sin is the constricting of actions and movements so that you cannot do the good works that God has called you to do. Sin can leave you very much alive; living and breathing and even walking the streets, but so scared and confused and guilty and thereby silent on God’s Word that one would think that you were dead.
Are you dead? Are you trapped in fear or guilt or confusion that refuses to let you go?
Just this past week we saw whole states become dead, paralyzed by the fear of losing money and influence and visitors, so much so that they refused to stand up for even the most basic of religious liberties; allowing those who would engage openly in persecution of speech and religion to do so without repercussion.
Not to be outdone, the latest debate in the public square is over who can use which bathroom; and again people have become dead, confused as to how this can even be a question; and in the midst of their paralysis the world has marched on to ignore the distinctions that God has created between male and female.
Where are you who know better? Where are you who have read, marked and inwardly digested God’s Word? Where are you who may very well be next in line to be persecuted? You too are dead in your grief. You watch the news and are to grief stricken to do anything about it, left only to lament that things will continue to get worse, that the faithful will continue to be persecuted, that the world will more and more resemble Sodom and Gomorrah before Christ comes, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Now to be sure, you have your moments of bravery; just like the disciples who ran to the empty tomb, and found it empty. You try to speak up, you sign petitions, and pose questions to those running for office; and yet, Satan is right there, whispering in your ears that you have sinned, that you have done wrong, that you have gone against God’s word and His command; so how can you possibly judge others? How can you possibly tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong? Leaving you dead, unable to speak a word on account of the guilt that overtakes you.
Last Sunday the praises echoed off the rafters of this old building; and yet what about Monday, and Tuesday, or today? Now that the big crowds have gone away, and it is not so easy to blend in, are you hiding in locked rooms? Are you as good as dead?
Alive and well on the outside to be sure, but for all intents and purposes, there is nothing for Satan and his hordes to worry about when it comes to you. For you are dead in fear and grief and guilt and confusion.
Who will go out and tell others that Jesus is alive? Who will go out and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God? Who will go out and announce that where there was once death, life has arisen?
Not these disciples; and not you either; for you find yourselves in locked rooms; left in a state of total confusion and outright fear; to paralyzed by guilt to dare speak a word to anyone. You are as dead as those who are buried in the cemetery, dead as the lifeless clay that was used to form Adam.
And yet in the midst of death, there is the breath of life.
In the midst of that locked room, Jesus appears and He breathes new life into the disciples.
Jesus breathes on those disciples and He relieves all of their fear and confusion and guilt and grief; taking their burdens upon Himself, and giving them His Holy Spirit.
Jesus is alive. The confusion that once reigned about all that He said about the son of man dying and rising on the third day, now makes sense.
The tomb is empty. The grief that their friend, their leader, their teacher was dead, is now removed; replaced by the knowledge that He will never die again.
The crucified one now lives. The guilt over running away in the Garden of Gethsemane, the guilt of denying Jesus, the guilt of refusing to speak up at His trial, is forgiven.
Jesus has assumed His place in eternal glory. The fear that had so paralyzed the disciples, fear that they would be the next to be so brutally murdered, is removed; for even if they die, and they will all die proclaiming the Gospel, they now have the promise that they will live forever with their Lord.
The breath that brought life to Adam in the Garden of Eden; is the same breath that brings life to these disciples in a locked room. The breath of God restores His people and brings them out of death and into life.
The disciples are restored to where they were before. Jesus holds no ill will or mistrust over these disciples for all of their failings the past three days; instead, He welcomes them back into His fellowship, and into the kingdom of God.
And that breath is now breathed upon you, so that you too may not remain dead in fear or guilt or confusion or grief, but that you may be alive, that you may be welcomed into the fellowship of God and be restored as His child. For just as Jesus would send out the disciples with work to do, so too does Jesus send you out, charged with proclaiming the Word of the Lord that Jesus Christ is risen indeed.
For there is no confusion in this world about how God made us and how He desires for us to live; there is only the living and active Word of God that speaks to us the unchanging truth of His Law and Gospel.
And we do so without fear for what the world may do to you or to me for the faith that we confess; the devil may do His worst, but we know full well that we have the victory of everlasting life secured for us by Christ Jesus Himself.
And so there is no grief over those who die in the faith, for we know with certainty that those who believe and are baptized receive the promise of eternal life.
There are no locked rooms to hide in for those who receive the Holy Spirit; for the breath of God fills you and empowers you to be His witnesses. Grief and guilt and fear and confusion may reign in this world, but you have the risen Christ who overcomes them all and who breathes the victory into you.