When I was a child, Sesame Street had a Christmas album that my nephew owned. The last song on the album was “Keep Christmas With You All Through the Year”. The song encourages the hearer to keep Christmas memories in your thoughts long after the decorations and presents are put away.
What about Easter? The celebration of the resurrection of our Lord is the feast of feasts. Yet it is so quickly put away like Christmas even though the Easter season last much longer than the Christmas season in the ecclesiastical calendar. We get tired of responding “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Easter hymns a month from now won’t have the same punch as they do today. Yet Easter extends not merely through these next few weeks, but through the entire church year.
Jesus’ appearance in a locked room among ten of His disciples, as well as His appearance one week later with an eleventh disciple present, shows us how the events of Easter extend long past wearing Easter bonnets, eating ham or lamb for Easter dinner, and eating the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. Our Savior’s resurrection greeting sets the tone for our life in Christ: Peace be with you.
The disciples certainly needed peace in their lives. All save John fled their Lord as He suffered an innocent death. Now reports of an empty tomb circulated among His followers. There was an encounter with Cleopas and a fellow traveler not far from Jerusalem. Women were the first to spread the news that Jesus lives. Believing their word should bring peace to their hearts. We find them cowering behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews. What if the religious authorities come looking for them next? What if they will follow in Christ’s footsteps and give up their lives?
The time of their witness had not yet come. The time of Christ’s witness of His resurrection has come. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” His words bestow what they say. They are not a simple greeting from a friend. They are truth. Peace is with them because Jesus is with them.
Then Jesus does something extraordinary. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Of all the things one could do to bring peace, showing them wounds from a crucifixion and a spear going through your side is the last thing you would want to see. Nevertheless, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. He Who was dead now lives. His wounds are the witness of peace made between God and man in Jesus Christ. Their sin no longer clings to them. Jesus Christ has accomplished what He was sent by the Father to do: bear their sin and be their Savior.
Your name is added to the list of those standing in that room who were glad when they saw the Lord. Granted our Savior isn’t going to walk through our doors and display His hands and side, but He is present among us in His preached Word, in His mandate to baptize all nations, and in the setting apart of bread and wine to be His very Body and Blood for us to eat and drink. Our time together each weekend around pulpit, font, and altar is an extension of Easter. It is more than following the lead of the Sesame Street song to keep the sentiment of Christmas, or Easter, in your thoughts. It is Easter becoming present for you today and every day.
How do you extend Easter into every day? Let’s let Saint John tell us. This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. The two things you heard John say in his passion account pouring out of Christ’s side are the witnesses that Christ died for your sins. It was not merely blood that flowed, but water as well. The Spirit, Who never works without attaching Himself to something, attaches Himself to the water and the blood, as well as the word preached to you. These are your Easter witnesses.
Easter is kept through the year in the testimony of the Holy Spirit pointing you back to water and blood. Water directs your attention to your baptism, where you became a child of God. All the precious possessions Christ has for you, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation, not to mention sonship with God, are yours in that washing away of sin and death with life-giving water. Blood directs your attention to the Lord’s Supper, where you eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of sins. As Christ’s blood covers you and declares you righteous, so eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper strengthens and preserves you in body and soul to life everlasting.
After Jesus greeted His disciples, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus gives to His Church, pastor and people, the authority to forgive and retain sins. There are times when the Church binds sin to those who are not repentant and will not believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Her joy and delight, however, is to set sinners free from sin by proclaiming forgiveness in Christ’s death and life in Christ’s resurrection.
Keep Easter with you all through the year by making time for resting in Christ both here in His house in Word and Sacrament, and in your home as you read and meditate on the Scriptures and pray for all needs and conditions of mankind. Christ is with you, ready to speak His Word of joy as He first spoke it to His frightened disciples: Peace be with you.