Dear people behind closed doors,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The location had not been made public. The use of the upper room was personally arranged for Jesus to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Judas, the betrayer had revealed only the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane to those who arrested Jesus. The location of the tomb was known and it had been sealed and guarded, but when the women came to the tomb the seal was broken to reveal an empty grave, and the soldiers went to tell the chief priests. They did not follow the women who went back to tell the disciples. Nevertheless the disciples largely remained sheltered in place and locked the doors out of fear of the Jews.
You know, there is only so much you can do. You can stay inside. You can stop other people from entering your home. I suppose you could leave your mail outside for 72 hours or more and hope that the virus does not last any longer than that. But you cannot really leave your groceries on your front step for three days. You have to bring them in. And then you can wipe them all down and get rid of the bags that they came in. But how many things have you touched since you picked up that first grocery item to disinfect it? How many things in the house did it touch before you wiped it down? Were you completely thorough or could some virus particles have survived or been transferred despite your fastidiousness?
I am sure that there are a good number of people who are downright scared over the spread of this virus, and I wouldn't want to add to the panic, but the truth of the matter is that you cannot eradicate it. You can only reduce the risk, which is very important to do.
The disciples, too, could not be completely safe. They had taken some security precautions and even locked the doors where they were (though how secure such locks could be in those times, I don't know). But they were not completely safe. Someone got in despite their best efforts to keep the place secret and make it impenetrable, a safe haven for those living in fear and threatened with death.
“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” (John 20:19). None of their precautions could keep Jesus out. It wasn't that He knew a secret entrance or was nimble enough to climb up to the second story window. He got in only because He was Jesus. It is the same way that He got out of the tomb, for the angel did not roll away the stone to let Jesus out. He rolled away the stone so that the women could see that Jesus was already gone. “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (Matthew 28:6).
Jesus had been in the tomb. It was sealed and guarded, but when the stone was rolled back He was not there. Jesus had been dead. He breathed His last. His side was pierced. The soldiers made sure, but on the third day He was not found among the dead. No one could stop Him from passing from death to life. No one could prevent Him from leaving through the sealed stone of the tomb. None of the disciples' precautions could keep Him out of the place where they were, behind locked doors. Dear disciples of Jesus who are barred by the locked doors of this building, rest assured that although you are working very hard to keep a virus particle out of your home, you cannot keep Jesus out.
It may be beyond your comprehension. It may be difficult to accept. You may not believe me when I say to you, that as surely as Jesus came to the disciples sheltered behind locked doors, so surely He comes to you where you are sheltered even now. I know that perhaps you don't have any stained glass windows in your home. That won't keep Him from coming. I know that you may not have a family altar with a cross and candles around which to gather and pray. Jesus doesn't need those. I know that you might not have a hymnal to sing from and you won't have a baptismal font in your house. And I know that you don't have the Lord's Supper with you. But although Jesus comes to us in those things wherein He has put His promises, He has also promised to come to us in His Word, and if you are listening to this service or reading through the service folder with the Scripture passages and the sermon, then Jesus is coming to you behind your locked doors, even if you are sheltering in fear.
Thomas could not believe it, for whatever reason. None of the disciples believed it when the women first announced the Resurrection message from the angel. And so it is not unusual with our sinful human nature to doubt the Lord's coming to us as He promised. But He promised that the disciples would see Him again, that He would come back to them, and He did.
It may not be the Lord's ability that you doubt, but your own worthiness. Perhaps things are not going so well behind the closed doors of your house. Maybe you are finding yourself in a foul mood most days. Maybe you are frustrated at not being able to do the things that you normally would do. That could be causing you to lash out in anger at the only ones nearby who make captive targets. It could be throwing you into a deep depression and despair because you wish there was someone around who you could target or hug or simply smile at. It could be that without having to go out and living in the shelter of your home, you've allowed bad habits and sinful behaviours to take the place of the regular routines of your life.
Dear disciples of Jesus, a sealed stone, locked doors, and even the grip of death could not stop Jesus from coming to His disciples in order to give them His much needed peace and forgiveness. “Jesus said to them, 'Peace be with you'” (John 20:21). And with no fear of virus transmission or advice on social distancing, “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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld'” (vv. 22-23). The Spirit breathed words of Jesus bestow forgiveness, and they don't have to be spoken from Jesus' own physical lips. He has given the promise that if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.
Jesus comes to you, in His own Words spoken and recorded by others, as St. Peter puts describes the holy Scripture: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). And St. Paul reminds us “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), just as Jesus breathed on the disciples in the upper room. Jesus comes to you through His Word, through closed doors, by sound waves travelling through the air, not limited by 2m or any distance. Those words of Jesus come through the tiniest of cracks, pass through walls and windows, travel across the internet, and leap off of the printed pages.
In the words of Holy Scripture Jesus Himself comes to you, and not even your sins can stop Him. For that is exactly why He comes. He doesn't come because He needs you to feed Him or to hide Him or even to worship Him. He comes for the very reason He came in the womb of the Virgin Mary and went through cross, death, and the grave. He comes to forgive your sins and to save you from the punishment of death and hell that you deserve because of those sins.
Of course, He is not going to let closed doors stop Him. He is not going to let any precautionary measures stop Him. You couldn't keep Him out if you wanted to, and perhaps that is even more scary than any threat that this coronavirus can bring. Jesus comes to you to save you and give you that peace of knowing that He has conquered death and hell for you. Your sins are forgiven in Him, and that forgiveness is yours through His unstoppable Word.
Thomas couldn't believe it. But that didn't stop Jesus either. He came for Thomas. He came to assure Thomas that the resurrection had indeed happened. So that Thomas would know that Jesus had conquered sin, death, and hell. He came to Thomas so that Thomas would know that Thomas' sins were forgiven. And so Thomas believed and declared, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
Why do you think that Jesus promises that He comes to you in His Word? It is the same reason why John wrote of these things in the Gospel. “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (v. 31). Jesus sends His Word to you. Jesus comes in His Word to you. Jesus forgives you through His Word so that you may have life.
The unstoppable Jesus is praised in the words of one of the hymns we sang last Sunday.
For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing
His deep peace, which evermore Passes human knowing;
Neither could the gates of death Nor the tomb's dark portal
Nor the watchers nor the seal Hold Him as a mortal.
(Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain, Lutheran Service Book 487, st. 4).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.