Signs of Doubt, Signs of Faith

Signs of Doubt, Signs of Faith

In the church’s calendar, today is called by the delightful
but complex name, “Quasimodogeniti Sunday.” Pretty fancy-sounding, isn’t it?
Well, how does “Newborn Baby Sunday” sound? A little more comfortable on our 21st-century
ears? OK, then. The reference in calling it “Quasimodogeniti”—Newborn Baby—is
to Baptism.

In the early church, new members were baptized during the
Easter Vigil, and then received Holy Communion for the first time on Easter
Sunday. The newborn believer in Christ, buried into Jesus’ death and raised in
the new life of Jesus in the water of Baptism, is then gathered to the breast
of Holy Mother Church to feed on the milk of God’s Word. This nourishment is
just as important to our faith as is milk to a newborn baby.

As St. Peter wrote in his first epistle:

"Like newborn
babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your
salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."

And so, as newborn babies, we feed on the milk of John’s
gospel, chapter 20. We are nourished and satisfied with the first Easter
appearance of Jesus to the disciples, and again one week later, to Thomas. In
this text, with His words and His wounds, His breath and His Spirit, Jesus
makes apostles out of His disciples. “Apostles,” of course, means “sent ones,”
and Jesus sends them with the authority to forgive and retain sins in His name.
He gives His followers the gift of the Holy Ministry—a wedding gift from the
risen Bridegroom to His Bride.

Our Lord had risen. Peter and John had seen His open, empty
tomb. John had observed the folded burial cloths and believed that Jesus had
risen. Mary had seen and touched Jesus. He had called her by name, and Mary had
believed. She told the news to the disciples:

"I have seen the

Jesus’ work was done. His battle cry of victory had
thundered from the cross:

"It is

Redemption had been won for all.

Now, beginning that first Easter evening, Jesus was out to
win all to His redemption. The disciples were all together in one
place. The doors were shut. They are set apart from the world. In the world,
but not of the world. That little room sounds a bit like church, doesn’t it?
Well, it is the Church.

Fear brought the disciples together. They were afraid for
their lives, afraid for their future, afraid of those who had clamored for the
crucifixion of Jesus. Those who had killed Jesus would surely come for them, too,
now that the rumors of His resurrection were beginning to circulate.

What is it that you fear? What keeps you
locked in, locked up, locked away? Is it fear of violence, suffering, disease,
death? Fear of persecution, punishment, mockery, loneliness, isolation?

Fear limits us. It locks us in to ourselves. It locks us
up in our own little rooms. It keeps us away from one another, both from our
fellow Christians and from those who still do not know Christ, but need to.

Fear makes life a prison, a fortress against the forces
that threaten us, both real and imagined. Our fortress may be the car, the
bedroom, our office cubicle, or a barstool. It’s wherever it is that we go to
hide from others, from the world, from our family and community, and from God.

Fear is the fruit of unbelief. It’s a breaking of the
First Commandment, the failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all
things. Fear is what happens what when we trust in things, and in ourselves,
above God.

Into that little fortress of fear, filled with the
disciples’ anxiety, comes the gentle, wounded Shepherd, once for sinners slain.
Jesus comes humbly, quietly. He doesn’t break down the doors. The One who burst
from the tomb and descended into hell to declare His victory without bothering
to roll away the stone has no need to break down locked doors. He doesn’t even
bother to knock.

What would the fearful band of disciples have done if He
had? Would they have even let Jesus in, had He knocked and waited for their
invitation? Would we today? No, we wouldn’t. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Jesus.
Yeah, right. Bolt the doors, Peter.

Yet the Good Shepherd does come to His sheep; the sheep do
not come to Him. He comes as the Lamb who had given His life to save them. He
comes and stands in their midst. Jesus had been there all along, of
course—really present, but not seen. Now He lets His disciples see Him as He
is: Risen from the dead. The One who died and now lives and is now really
present for His disciples in a new and profound way.

The first words Jesus speaks to them are words of

"Peace be with

His words give what they say. Peace. As He’d told them
before His crucifixion:

"Peace I leave with
you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not
your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."

His peace comes in the midst of turmoil and unrest, both in
the disciples’ day, and ours:

"I have said this
to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but
be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

The Lamb had conquered death by dying, and now He comes in
peace to bring life.

What comfort Jesus’ words of peace must have brought to the
disciples! They had all failed Him in His hour of glory. Peter had denied Him
three times. The disciples had all abandoned him. None of them had believed His
words—that on this day, the first day of the week, He would rise from the dead.

None of them had trusted Jesus in His own death. Nor did
they now trust Him with their life. Their hearts were filled with fear. Yet
Jesus does not berate them for their unbelief or chide them for the lack of
faith. Instead, He comes graciously to them, speaking of His peace.

His peace is real peace, as real as His wounds, the nail
marks on His hands and the scar of the spear that pierced His side. From these
rich wounds come the peace that Jesus speaks.

Note well these wounds, for by these wounds you are
healed, too—from the disease of your sin and your death. Recall those wounds
when your life is in turmoil and upheaval, when you are threatened and filled
with fear, locked up in your room, despairing of your life. His are the wounds
from which the cleansing blood flowed upon the wood of the cross for you. They
are your peace.

The wounds mark Jesus as the crucified One, the One whose
body was nailed to the cross. This was no imposter or spiritualized phantom
Jesus, but a genuine flesh-and-blood Jesus, newly risen from the dead. This
Jesus is recognized by His wounds, the marks of His Calvary. His words and His
wounds turn the disciples fear to joy and gladness:

"They were glad
when they saw the Lord."

Jesus was with them; there was nothing for the disciples to
fear. His wounds swallow up their fear, and ours. Nothing can be done to us
that hasn’t already been done to Jesus, and He has done it all to death on the

With His first word of peace, Jesus absolved His disciples,
and quenched their fears. A second time Jesus speaks:

"Peace be with

Now, with this second word of peace, He sends them to
absolve others, and to quench their fears:

"As the Father has
sent me, even so I am sending you."

As Jesus was sent by the Father to be His authorized
representative, to speak on His behalf, so now Jesus was sending His disciples
to speak on His behalf, to give out the gifts He won on the cross for a dying
and damned world that refused Him, and still does.

He breathes on them and speaks the words that deliver the
Holy Spirit. With His breath, God made dead clay into a living being. With His
breath, God breathed life into the dry, dead bones like those that Ezekiel
saw. His breath and His words create and renew. With His breath, Jesus
breathes the life of the resurrection and resuscitates His church.

This event in the upper room is a "little
Pentecost," anticipating the big Pentecost which would come seven Sundays
later. At that later time, Jesus would breathe upon His whole church, with the
sound of a mighty, rushing wind. Here Jesus breathes His Spirit upon those He
was sending in His name to be His apostles, His pastors. It is their
ordination day. Jesus was not giving them the Spirit to make them disciples.
They already were His learners, His followers.

Here the Spirit is given so that they may be sent to speak
the peace of Jesus’ death and resurrection with the confidence that it is by
Jesus’ own breath, words, and Spirit. It is given so they might lead others
into confidence in His death and resurrection.

This is the same Sprit of which St. Paul spoke when he
reminded Timothy of his own ordination:

"Hence I remind you
to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my
hands, for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power and love and

Jesus breathes His words and Spirit into His disciples so
that the forgiveness of sins might be heard in His church:

"Anyone whose sins
you forgive are forgiven; anyone whose sins you retain are retained."

He binds His words to their mouths; His forgiveness to
their forgiveness. He puts His disciples under holy orders to deal decisively
with sin, by applying His saving death.

Dealing decisively with sin is what the church is for. It
is a "mouth-house" of forgiveness: To forgive the sins of those who
wish to be rid of their sin and live now and forever, and also to retain the
sins of those who would rather die and be damned forever. It all comes together
in that little sentence in the Small Catechism when the penitent who has made
his or her confession is asked:

"Do you believe
that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?"

And as we know, this is as certain and true as if Christ
our dear Lord were dealing with us Himself. It comes in the way of His
Incarnation—with His words and wounds, His breath and His Spirit. Jesus leaves
no doubt as to where the gifts of Easter are given out.

There, in the speaking of the absolution, the gifts of
Jesus perfect life, His suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection
are delivered surely and certainly to the ears of the hearer. The forgiveness
that Peter, James, John, and the others spoke was not their own. They had no
forgiveness of their own to give. They were in constant need of forgiveness

Rather, forgiveness belongs to Jesus, the Crucified and
Risen One, the One who died and rose for you and for all. It was His to win by
dying, and it is His to speak, through those He sends to speak it.

But Thomas was not with them that first Easter Sunday. He
hadn’t been to church. Poor Thomas. Skip out on church and you miss out on the
giving out of the gifts. The other disciples do not leave Thomas impoverished
for long, however. In their joy, they go out and find him:

"We have seen the
they tell him.

We might call that "outreach" or
"evangelism." Notice that they didn’t avoid the task themselves, and
depend on a committee of other people to do it, they just did it.

And they don’t berate poor old Thomas for having missed
church, or load a heap of guilt on his head. There wasn’t any, "Where
were you on Sunday? We didn’t see you in church."
Instead they tell
Him about the risen Lord and His gifts.

But Thomas doesn’t yet believe. He has not yet heard Jesus’
words or seen His wounds. And so, Thomas expresses the doubt with which his
name has become forever linked:

"Unless I see the
nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand
into His side, I will not believe."

In spite of his lack of faith at that point, Thomas is
correct in one important respect. More correct, perhaps, than he could have
possibly realized. For without the words and wounds of Jesus, he could not
believe. As we learn about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles’ Creed:

"I believe that I
cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to

Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. With His words
and His wounds, with His breath and His Spirit, Jesus creates faith and then
feeds the newborn faith He has created.

The following Sunday, the disciples are together again.
Again the doors are shut. Again they are set apart from the world in a world by
themselves. Thomas is with them this time. Again Jesus appears in their midst.
Again He speaks His word of peace:

"Peace be with

Again He shows them His wounds. He invites Thomas to touch
them, to put his finger in the nail prints and his hand into Jesus’ side.

"Be not doubting,
but believing."

Jesus’ words and His wounds have their faith-creating way
with Thomas:

"My Lord and my
he confesses.

Who is Thomas in your life? Who has not heard Jesus’ words
or seen His wounds? He is your unchurched neighbor, a spouse, a co-worker, a
family member. Maybe it’s even a congregation member who heard them once, but
has forgotten or rejected them. Thomas is whoever in your life is dying
without the words and wounds of Jesus.

Thomas must be sought out, called on, gathered into the
room, brought into the real presence of Jesus. Thomas is of concern to all who
have dined at Jesus’ table, all who have heard His words and handled His

We, too, are Thomas. We were not there at Calvary when they
crucified our Lord. And, we were not there on that initial first day of the
week, when Jesus appeared to the disciples. And we weren’t there on the second
Sunday either. But not to worry. We can’t go to Jesus, but He can come to us.
Jesus comes to His disciples on the first day of every week. That’s St.
John’s point: Every Sunday is an Easter, and in Christ, every day is a first
day of the week, a new creation. The crucified and risen Lord is continually
present with His disciples with His words and His wounds, His breath and His

We do not see Jesus explicitly, but He is no less present
for us than He was for His disciples in the locked little room. And we are no
poorer for it, and may actually be richer, for as He told them: "Blessed
are those who have not seen, and yet believe."

Indeed, we are blessed in our not seeing. We have His words
of forgiveness spoken to us and His Spirit breathed upon us. We eat and drink
His body and blood. Those “Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty

are gloriously presented to us, even though they come to us in the lowly forms
of bread and wine. Jesus gives out His gifts through the Office He established
with His words and His breath, so that you, too, “may believe that Jesus
is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you would have life in His

Jesus is here among us with His words and His wounds, His
breath and His Spirit, His forgiveness and His peace. In Word and in Supper. In
Holy Ministry. These are the resurrection gifts of Jesus to the Church.

They are His gifts to you, too. Here. Today. On this
first day of the week. And we, the children of that blessed marriage of Christ
and His Church, receive them as new creations in Christ, as newborn babies in
the faith. Blessed Quasimodogeniti.

In the Holy Name of Jesus (+). Amen.