01. May 2011
John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluiah!
You wouldn’t believe some of things people tell me. There is something about the hospital or nursing home which causes people to describe their bodily functions and ailments in ways that would normally be considered indecent. I hear about bowel movements, vomiting, bloating, and cramping. Aches and pains are described in intimate detail. And sometimes patients intentionally show you exactly where it hurts without shame.
All the exposure and talk of excrement still shock some. I’m no longer surprised. When emergencies arise, pride withers away. Subject matter that was once taboo is now fair game.
At first, I was surprised and shocked by the frankness. After a time I grew to understand why people let their guard down when they are under care. You see, they go to the hospital or the nursing care facility precisely because they need help. Its too late for them to be shy and say “there’s nothing wrong.” So their timidness fades and they open up, at least with their doctors.
What would cause folks to let their guard down and expose themselves to me? I think its the same. They recognize why I am there. I’m not their as their doctor. I’m not there merely as a friend. I’m not their to merely offer sympathy. I am there as their pastor. I am there to care for their soul, to be their seelsorger, a physician of souls.
The patient recognizes their need for care. Just as the doctor asks questions and listens patiently as you describe the symptoms, so you describe for your seelsorger what troubles your soul. Just as your doctor wields medicine and knife to remedy your body, so too your physician of souls wields the sword of the Spirit in meditation, prayer, and hymn.
When we are struggling with what ails us, be it in our body or in our soul, we desire our Lord to appear to us, just as he did before the disciples. We read: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When we’re ashamed for one we have done, when we know the guilt that our sinful nature gives us, when we doubt that the Lord will take care of us, that’s when we so desperately need him to say to us, Peace be with you.
We want to hear those words Peace be with you, to know our Lord has made us right again with God, that we need not fear his wrath, our suffering, our pain, our loss, or even our death.
We need a real cure, administered by God’s own messengers, his angels to the churches. We want the true cure is Jesus. Jesus has reconciled God to man. He has died so that you will never die. Easter is the cure for all that ails us.
He gives this potent cure to his Apostles who give it to the churches, to be administered by a called and ordained servant. Our Lord says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
He says to His disciples, “you are my sent ones, to go out into the world with the testimony of the Word.” You take the pure spiritual milk of Me and nurse the infants of faith.
And He breathed on them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Not just any spirit, but the Spirit who testifies of Me, sent by the Father and brings my forgiveness to the nations. You are my missionaries to declare the justification won on the cross, bearing redemption, healing, and life eternal to all who believe… so that they can join in heavenly song before the Lamb Who Was Slain, singing the great canticles of faith.
And you, my sent ones, forgive those who are contrite and withhold forgiveness of the hard of heart. You are called to declare the condemnation of the Law upon those who reject our Father’s strict command, but to declare forgiveness to those who know they had failed and deserve nothing but punishment.
The servant of the Lord is rightly called seelsorger, the physician of souls. It comes as no surprise, then, that dear Christians would reveal themselves to me. For I am there to hear their woes, their grief, their pain, and their sorrow and provide the appropriate remedy for their soul.
Some need a cleansing via the laxative properties of the Law. The Law cleanses our soul of our own righteousness and worthiness, emptying us of reliance upon good works.
But for others their torment has already beaten them low and they need a steroid shot of the Gospel, rejuvenating them in faith and trust in Jesus the Christ.
“Like newborn babes [we] long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word.” (Psalm 81:1) In their time of need the faithful lay their ailments at the pastor’s feet because they know that he comes bearing the only remedy that always heals. They want the only peace that passes understanding.
Yet, many doubt the apostolic office. They reject the need for Christ to preach to them, to treat them, to heal them through His Word at the mouth of his chosen messengers. They refuse the testimony of the Word which declares them unworthy in sin and worthy in Christ’s blood. They do not come to church. They do not call the pastor when they are tormented in their conscience or are hospitalized.
Sometimes this is out of neglect. Other times its because they think of our faith as Jesus plus something else. Perhaps the solution to their guilt is Jesus’ shed blood and a stiff drink. Our perhaps their shame leads them to Jesus’s death for them and not escape into their home, neglecting family and friends.
Other times, in doubt of God’s Word, they reveal their cares to everyone but their pastor—to doctors, nurses, friends, family, therapists, and others, in a way of hedging their bets. Perhaps if God doesn’t pull me through, the doctors might, they think. “Its about time I get a lucky break” they might say.
Often, many have come to doubt that God will care for them because they want more evidence. They want more than just the Word of grace in Jesus which is grasped in faith. They want proof, things they can see and feel to prove that God is active.
This is the case with unbelieving Thomas. Thomas rejects the word of testimony of his fellow brothers. He does not trust their eyewitness testimony from just eight days previous, the very same Evanglists who later who recall the event in the Spirit-inspired Gospels. Thomas could not believe his brothers, the sent ones of Christ. Still, he, like any lost sheep, pursues the truth.
He said to them, “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 never believe.”
Thomas demands incontrovertible evidence to back up these claims. This is definite unbelief. He wants proof that Jesus is alive. He wants proof that Jesus has not left him or forsaken him. He wants proof God still loves him.
We are like Thomas. We demand to see His hands and side. We must behold His wounds which He bore for the iniquity of the world. Our resurrected Lord must still bear the scars of our sin.
So, like Thomas, our Lord comes to us, to remedy our faith, although hidden in, with, and under simple means. These means, as weak and insignificant as they may seem are the testimony of the Spirit about the Son. We are washed in the water that poured from his side. We taste His very blood poured out for the continued forgiveness of our sins. They are the witness that our Lord is not dead. No, he is alive.
This is why our Lord has given us the holy Sacraments. We aren’t left with the mere testimony of God but we also have to the Word joined to the water and the blood. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. Like Thomas, when we we doubt our Lord loves us, we run back to our Lord, to his body, to the water and the blood.
We follow the same command and touch Christ’s side. We feel the water flow from Christ, purchasing and winning us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This saving flood washes over us in Holy Baptism. Our guilt is washed away and our lives are restored daily to faith and love.
That is why we begin each day in the baptismal name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the morning, in the evening, and any time we are burden by sin, we return to the rock of our baptism and the assurance of forgiveness it brings.
The sign of the cross, the sign of our baptism, should relieve us. It should be enough. But often, our burdens are too great, our sin too heavy. Our faith turns to doubt that our Lord truly loves us, that his death truly atoned for us, that we are really forgiven.
That’s why God sent the Apostles and still sends pastors to the church. Christ uses the tongues of men to speak his testimony that He that overcame the World. By the Spirit, water, and blood we know that the pastor is indeed the servant of God who can pronounce forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe by and in the stead of Jesus Christ. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” For we believe in faith but not through sight but hearing.
What we hear, we know is true, for this is the testimony of God concerning the Son. We know that Christ is raised from the dead! Death has been defeated! Hell cannot triumph anymore!
Still, water and Word alone should be enough. Christ is his great and abundant mercy gives us yet a third testimony. We need to hear that God has forgiven us not from the inside but from the outside. His messengers come with not just the testimony of the Spirit, and the water, but also the blood.
Through the gift of the Lord’s Supper, we receive the most external of means, bread and wine, to deliver Christ’s forgiveness into your very body. The Word washes over your body in Baptism, clothing you in Christ’s righteousness. The Word enters your ears in Absolution, relieving your conscience.
In the Supper, the Word pierces to the very division of marrow and bone and remakes you from the inside out. What you receive in your mouth is our very Lord, declaring forgiveness and making you forgiven in his true body and blood, his flesh remaking your flesh.
“Stop doubting but believe!” We need this food fit for newborn babes for we are children of faith. Christ serves His heavenly banquet to us here, where he is in service to us. He speaks to us His forgiveness, the dishes that truly satisfy the soul, curing it of doubt and strengthening faith. Our shame is removed and our death is undone. Those wounds in His hand and side are given and shed for us.
Jesus says “The words that I speak to you: they are Spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) By his wounds, we know that on the last day our grave will be opened. Our Lord will breath upon us, raising us to new life with him.
And when He breathes upon us, these dry bones will be restored. All the pain and suffering of our lives will be removed. We will suffer no shame under them for they will be gone! There will be no need to expose the torment that troubles your soul… no need to describe the hurts of this life. For they will all be removed in a blink of an eye.
We will be taken to heavenly Jerusalem, the great and holy hill where we, His servants, along with the Holy church throughout the World, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs and all the angels and archangels will worship our Lord in glory everlasting.
Now in the Holy Sacrament and then in eternity we can confess in jubilant song with Thomas “My Lord and my God!” Shout for joy in the Lord, O You righteous! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluiah!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church