Sermon on St. John 20:19-31
First Sunday after Easter (Quasimodogeniti)
As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word. – I Peter 2:2
This first Sunday after Easter has several names. If you’re counting the number of Sundays after Easter (a week of weeks or seven Sundays), it’s the first Sunday after Easter. If you’re keeping track of church attendance, then today is sometimes called “low Sunday,” and you can probably guess why! If you’re keeping an eye on the main characters in the Gospel Lesson, then it is “Thomas Sunday,” as we follow him from doubt to faith. But if you’re following the Introit of the day as a thematic statement for the Sunday, then today is Quasimodogeniti Sunday, a tongue-twister for “new born babe Sunday.” We will follow the newborn babe theme today, building on the words of St. Peter, “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word.”
On the evening of the first Easter Sunday, the disciples were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They were filled with fear, doubt, and dread over their past, their present, and their future. Yes, the disciples were scared to death. But it was in the midst of their fear and doubt that Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said, “Peace be with you.” Even in the original language, Jesus’ first word to them is “peace.” See how this word is loaded with rich Gospel! Peace for Peter, who denied the Lord. Peace for Peter, James, and John, who slept in Jesus’ moment of need in the garden. Peace for the ten disciples who fled from the cross. And Jesus gave them the proof of God’s peace by showing them His hands and His side, the marks and proof of the crucifixion. This is the Man who was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. The disciples were filled with joy as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection gradually dawned upon them. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
And Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” With His first sharing of the peace, He absolved them of their sins. With His second sharing of the peace, He sent them to give you and me the word of absolution: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” As you all know from the Small Catechism, we call it “The Office of the Keys,” the special authority Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of the repentant and to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. So repent for fearing, loving, and trusting in yourselves above all things. Repent for taking the Lord’s name in vain. Repent for despising God’s Sabbath, for angering your parents and other authorities, for hurting and harming your neighbor in his body and his reputation, and for coveting what does not belong to you. Repent and receive the forgiveness Christ won for you by His suffering and death. When the pastor places his hands on your head in individual absolution to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” he is giving you all of Jesus’ Easter gifts: forgiveness of sins, the peace that passes understanding, and the joy of knowing that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
All would be in order, then, for the lively promulgation of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth were it not for the absence of one disciples, Thomas. Poor Thomas. He skipped out on church. Miss church and you miss the gifts. Miss church and you miss Jesus Himself. Thomas may have been the father of what we call the age of reason, that time just a few centuries ago when man placed empirical evidence before faith. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will not believe.” From these remarks, of course, we developed the phrase “doubting Thomas,’ which is in common usage even among unbelievers. Thomas wants proof. He wants scientific evidence that can be documented in a lab, backed up by duplicate research, and no doubt published in a journal with peer review. And until the proof arrives in the flesh, Thomas will not believe the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles.
We have the same problem, don’t we? We call it skepticism. The Word of God calls it unbelief or even spiritual death. The call to repentance here is the sober reminder that we don’t bank our faith entirely on scientific evidence. If you’re into those documentaries on the various history channels, you’re probably amused (as I am) by the number of specials that try to ‘decode’ the Bible. If you believe what you see on TV, then the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was not God’s doing, but a random Astroid shower. The Exodus was not God’s work, but a natural geological phenomena. And star that led the Wise Men to the boy Jesus was a fallen star and the product of chance. And the list of liberal deconstructions of the sacred writings goes on and on. The truth is that God was working through human history and science in all these things. He sent the destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah from above. He parted the Red Sea that He Himself made, and He sent the star of His own choosing to guide the Wise Men to the boy Jesus. Without faith, it is impossible to believe these things. But the object of our faith is not just empirical evidence, but the Gospel itself. And Jesus Himself, along with a host of eyewitnesses, bear witness that Christ is risen! And blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.
Eight days later, an octave of days after Easter, a similar episode took place, only this time Thomas made it to church. Again the doors were locked, but it really didn’t matter. Jesus used the powers of the Godhead a little more freely after His resurrection from the dead. So He passed through the doors and said, “Peace be with you.” As God, He was well aware of Thomas’ doubts. So He spoke directly and personally to Thomas, saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put our your hand, and place it in my side.” In the original language of the NT, Jesus’ words are nearly identical to Thomas’ words from the previous Sunday. Every objection has been answered in the flesh and all doubt must flee in the presence of the risen Christ. “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And how did Thomas respond? “My Lord and my God!” He got it right, for Jesus is Lord and God, human and Divine, crucified and risen. And Thomas could confess with Job in today’s OT Lesson, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
We, of course, cannot see Jesus with our human eyes. He is simply not available to our sight, which, as an aside, is a good reason not to call upon the pastor to cast a vision rather than sow the seed of the Word. Rather, Jesus speaks of you and me when He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We have not seen Jesus with our eyes. But we know that He is risen, that He is here, and that He brings the peace that passes understanding. Today’s Epistle reminds us that “there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ and none other. The water is the water of Baptism. The blood is the blood in the Lord’s Supper, once given on the cross and now sitting at this table for the life of the world. Again, we cannot see Jesus. But we have three sure and certain witnesses from heaven: The Holy Spirit, the water of baptism, and the blood of the Lord’s Supper. These three agree that Jesus is the Son of God.
Speaking of three’s, even the numbers in today’s Gospel lesson preach the good news that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. Jesus shares the peace three times, twice on the first Easter and once on the following Easter. The triple sharing of the peace is not vain repetition, but importance. It says that the peace of God is worth sharing every Sunday, as sure we proclaim that peace to one another when I lift up the chalice and the Priest Host every Sunday. The first resurrection appearances were on the third day after He was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day is the day of life. It is the day God created living things with an annual cycle of death and life in Genesis 1–2. In the NT, it is the day that Jesus brought life and immortality to you and me, publishing the good news of His death for our sins and His new life. Even today’s choral voluntary and hymns are in a lively, 3/4 meter, depicting the life and joy of the resurrection. There were eight days between these two resurrection appearances. Eight is the number of the new creation. It recalls the seven days of the original creation, God’s preservation of eight souls in the ark, and His fulfillment of a new creation in this, the ark of the Christian church. Finally, Jesus appeared to ten disciples on Easter Sunday, to eleven disciples on the following Sunday, and finally regained twelve disciples shortly after Pentecost. So the twelve Apostles, fulfillers of all that was promised to the twelve tribes of Israel, are complete. So from three to eight to twelve, the numbers in today’s Gospel lesson preach life, salvation, and resurrection from the dead.
And so today we confess with St. Peter, “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word.” The phrase “new born babes” recalls holy Baptism, the place where we first took part in Jesus’ death and resurrection; the event that made us God’s own babies. And what’s the one thing a baby can do from the minute it is born? Drink Mommy’s milk. It is the basic stuff of life itself, for all stages of life. In application, we spend our entire lives desiring the sincere milk of God’s holy Word. The milk of God’s Word is God’s Easter gift to us, today and every day. Hearing the Scriptures. Praying the Catechism. Singing from the hymnal. Here, in faith and in life, is the good news that the life of Christ is 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.” INJ. Amen.
Rev. Brian Hamer
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY