Easter 2 · John 20:19-31 · April 19, 2009
By Bruce Hartung
Among the many themes clearly evident from this text, e.g., doubt and faith using the experience of Thomas (20:24—29), belief in Christ fostered by the telling of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (20:30-31), this sermon help will focus on the theme of fear and peace (20:19-22, 26). For sermon helps focusing on the theme of doubt and faith see Richard Warneck’s “The Man Who Missed Easter” in the Concordia Journal, January 1998, pp. 96-98. For sermon helps focusing on the theme of the fostering of belief in Christ, see Paul Raabe’s discussion in the Concordia Journal, January 1990, pp. 56-57.
Fear blocks productive living. The sermon can begin there in the context of a feeling in a person’s experience with which everyone can identify. The initial exploration is of the nature of fear. As examples, there are many specific fears: scopophobia is the fear of being looked or stared at; phobophobia is the fear of being afraid; triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen; ecclesiaphobia is the fear of churches. (Thanks to Professor Howdy for these examples.) Everyone has anxiety about something or experiences fear in relationship to something frightening. Time could be taken to ask people to think about that which is frightening to them or the preacher can share some of his own in personal way. (3″ X 5″ cards could be distributed for people to write down those things about which they are most afraid.)
Fear gets in the way of living life to its fullest.
The beginning of the text paints a picture of the disciples behind closed doors “for fear (phobos) of the Jews” (20:19). This is the third time in the Gospel of John such a phrase is used, and each time it is clear that the fear got in the way of something positive.
At the Feast of the Tabernacles (7:13) “no one spoke openly about him (Jesus) because they were afraid of the Jews”. Here fear inhibits conversation, discussion and witnessing.
After the crucifixion, “Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus” (19:38a). Here fear fosters secrecy, although Joseph found a way to deal with it well enough to get done what he wanted to do.
In the text, the disciples are behind locked doors (20:19, 26). Here fear restricts activity and causes a certain amount of “circling the wagons” and creating barriers to the outside world.
In these second and third resurrection appearances of Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus greets the disciples and “said to them, ‘Peace (eirenen) be with you'”. While this is a common greeting, it also points back to John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume II, p. 412) states: “As regards the material use of the term in the NT three concepts call for notice: a. peace as a feeling of peace and rest; b. peace as a state of reconciliation with God; c. peace as the salvation of the whole man in an ultimate eschatological sense. All three possibilities are present, but the last is the basis. This confirms the link with the OT and Rabbinic usage.”
Here Christ’s peace is connected to the OT “shalom” and is a sense of inner peacefulness based on a newly formed right relationship with God through Christ and assurance of God’s presence with us both now and in eternity. In a real sense, we are “saved” and “at peace”.
Yet even Jesus’ coming to the disciples did not calm them completely, for the next week they were still behind locked doors. In the real world we struggle, not always either comprehending or experiencing in its fullness the peace of God that passes all understanding. (Returning to the 3″ X 5″ cards if used, invite the hearers to write a cross over the fears that are written down and also write over them the word “Peace”. The pastor might have these cards collected and receive them, placing them on the altar where they can be seen as brought before God. Prayers for God’s peace in relationship to all the fears expressed on these cards would be quite welcome.)
That Christ brings his peace does not mean we every receive it fully in this life lived in this fallen world. Yet the assurance is that as we live in our fear behind locked doors the Christ comes into our midst and says, “Peace be to you”. He comes to us in Sacrament and Word; he comes to us as we are bearers of his peace to each other.
“Peace be to you.”