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The Confident Touch of Easter's Witness

April 11, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Dr. Ben Nass Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–31


A sermon delivered at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

On April 11, 2021 – Second Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20:19-31

By the Rev. Dr.  B. F. Nass, Pastor Emeritus

Dear Members of St Johns present and viewing and welcome Easter guests:

What a difference a day can make.  Sometimes is seems our lives just drone on and on each day in a monotonous, repetitive routine.  Then, out of the blue .. WHAMOO!! Suddenly something surprising or long planned finally happens that bursts the bubble of those boring blahs and transforms them into memorable occasions, sometimes to our joy and delight, and, sadly, others into remorse, even fear.

Most of us can look back either recently or even long ago and identify times, and events, and days and people that made a significant difference in our lives and are etched vividly into our memory.  It may not have been something as big as winning the lottery or a 9/11 event.  It may have been a surprise job offer or promotion, the announcement of an addition to your family, a phone call, a card, or text from a dear friend, the notification of clean bill of health from medical tests, or it could be something as simple and meaningful of someone’s gentle touch.

Last Sunday we celebrated the joyful, but mind-numbing proclamation “Christ is Risen!” A week has now passed in our lives, but in terms of today’s Gospel, we are still back at last Sunday’s “first day of the week.”  The early morning discovery by Peter and John of an empty grave produced, not joy, but fear – fear for their own safety – a fear which was shared by the other disciple who welcomed the impending darkness behind locked doors -- perhaps in the very same location where they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus just three days ago.

What a difference a day can make especially when it experiences the confident, gentle touch of a risen savior. The disciples’ day rocketed from fear to joy at the surprise presence of their risen Rabbi.  Their closed door became his open invitation as he suddenly appeared in physical form with proof positive of his identity.  His body bore the healing scars of his previous torture. Slowly, reality began to sank into their conscious awareness until it reached a fever pitch.  The translation of “and the disciples ‘rejoiced’,” doesn’t at all capture the depth of emotion in the original language.  This was the degree of joy the wise men felt when, after a long, tenuous search, finally found the Christ Child.  This is the kind of joy the good shepherd felt when he finally found the one sheep who was lost.  Better to translate, “and the disciples were completely over whelmed with joy.”  The rip tide of fear dissolved into a swirling eddy of joy and peace.  What a difference a day made when it was touched by the presence of a risen Savior.

By an eerie twist of fate, many of us can relate to the disciples’ experience.  Most of us have found ourselves locked behind the closed doors of fear from a virus – that vague, destructive, invisible threat to our health and lives. Face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing were about the only steps we could take to keep that bug at bay. Even then, it managed to creep under the guarded threshold of many lives and touched them with pain, prolonged illness, and, for far too many, death.

We were finally cheered by the good news of the development of vaccines offering some protection and, gradually, those saving shots are making their way into  arms and lives. Many, including myself, have had our arms pricked with the protection promised.  After I received the second shot, I can’t say my joy paralleled that of the Easter disciples, but I did feel a deep sense of relief and freedom. If you are still waiting for yours, I pray that gentle touch happens soon.  It will probably make your day!!

It doesn’t take a great deal of insight to connect the parallel between the physical and the spiritual dimension here. Like the virus of Covid 19, the pervasive virus of sin continues to lock the door of our hearts from the touch of a loving God and healthy relationships with those around us. Lurking like an invisible cloud, it sounded the drumroll of certain and eternal death.  That is, until the laboratory of God’s love developed a sure-fire vaccine in the person of his dear Son who became the victim for our virus.  It wasn’t a shot in the arm but a gruesome death in our place.  He swallowed the ocean of our impending death, and, by his glorious resurrection, he restored to us a dry path that leads to restored relationships, freedom and peace.  What a saving gift!  What a life-changing difference!

The disciples fear and despair that first Easter evening was dispersed by the visible presence of the risen Lord.  He greets them with the common Hebrew “Shalom al lechem” (Peace be with you).  He accepts them for their past failures and invites even “doubting Thomas” to physically touch in order to believe.  That leads to his bold confession, “My Lord and my God.”

But what about us.  We haven’t had the privilege enjoyed by those first disciples.  Wouldn’t it be a game changer if the risen Lord would suddenly appear before us today and invite us to touch his wounds?  In lieu of that, John, who was there, offers us his witness as the next best option. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that, through believing, you may have life in his name.”

The confident touch of the Easter message created a spark that lit a roaring blaze in the lives of those who came to believe.  The example of sharing lives and loves and needs demonstrated by the early Christians described in today’s first lesson is living proof of that. And can it not be the same among us as we gently touch the wounds of others with love, forgiveness, hope and peace.  As we heard at the conclusion of last Sunday’s Message, Easter is not one day.  It’s every day as we allow its message to make a difference in the way we demonstrate our faith through our gentle touch in the lives and needs of others.  It’s amazing what a difference that can make not only for others but especially for each of us as well.  Make every day another mini-easter!  Shalom and Amen.

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