Speak Your Peace: Sermon for the Funeral of John Stuckenbroker

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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 He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “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 any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
On one of my visits with John at the hospital. I waited for the nurses to get him re-situated and then I asked him if it would be all right to read some Scriptures and pray with him. John’s answer was short and sweet: “Speak your peace!” I think Helen and their children were a little embarrassed, but not all that surprised. I appreciated John’s honesty and took it as a show of his sense of humor—at least as much as he was able to muster given his location and situation.
On the way home, I got to thinking about it a little bit. “Speak your peace.” Is that supposed to be p-i-e-c-e or p-e-a-c-e?  Either one of them can make sense depending upon context. Speak your piece, as in “say whatever it is you have prepared to say” or speak your peace, as in “say whatever you need to clear the air.” Not sure which is correct, I went to the ultimate authority: Google. Unfortunately, that didn’t help a lot. It seems there is no consensus there, either.
But that’s okay. Today I want to speak peace, the peace that passes all human understanding, the peace that the resurrected Jesus gave to His apostles on that first Easter evening, the peace that Jesus commissioned His disciples to carry out into the world in His name: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.”  
Easter morning is far, far better news because of Easter evening.
All that day, the disciples are doubtlessly conflicted. The image of Jesus’ suffering and death is freshly seared on their minds from Friday, and the despair has been palpable ever since. But as of Sunday morning, the body is gone, the tomb is empty; and the women keep insisting they’ve heard from angels that Jesus is risen from the dead. Some of them claim to have even seen Him alive. They’ve heard him speak, and they relayed His living Word to the disciples. But the disciples don’t believe that He’s risen. They don’t know what to believe. So, in the evening, ten of them are hiding in a room, the doors locked out of fear.
So as of Easter evening, they’re full of questions. And they don’t even have Google. Could it be possible that Jesus is risen? And if He is risen from the dead, what is He risen for? He’s taken a lot of abuse, so maybe it’s time for vengeance: maybe He’ll strike back at His enemies… maybe He’ll strike out at His disciples who failed Him so miserably. Remember: You and I know that the resurrection is good news, but the disciples don’t yet. Easter morning has raised a bunch of questions, maybe even some hopes, but they’re still hiding in a locked room.
"Christ Appearing to His Apostles" by Rembrandt
Jesus stands in the midst of them. He’s suddenly there, and He speaks to them. Note His first words to His disciples and treasure them as your own. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” He doesn’t say, “You’re fired!” He doesn’t say, “It’s payback time.” He doesn’t even say, “Although you’ve utterly failed to be faithful, you’ve still got a shot at heaven if you just clean up your act and do well enough from here on. He speaks His peace—literally. He says, “Peace be with you.”
The first thing Jesus tells His disciples is that He is at peace with them. He is not back with vengeance to punish sinners—that’s the last thing the risen Christ comes to do. He’s just died for the sins of the world, including the sins of the disciples. His first words announce to them that the price has been paid for their redemption. God does not hold their sins against them because Christ has died for every last one of them. They are reconciled. Forgiven.
And now Christ is risen from the dead. He shows them His hands and His side, where nails and spear have pierced him. It’s really Him, not an imposter. It’s really His body, not a ghost. He’s fully alive, His body revived and blood coursing through His veins. That is important, too, because it declares that He has defeated the entire curse of sin. Sin brought death to soul and body, so Jesus restores life to both soul and body. Calvary isn’t a draw where the grave gets to hold on to flesh and bone. The grave is utterly defeated. Death gets no consolation prize. It’s an enemy under the feet of Jesus, and can do nothing without His permission.
This is what the disciples hear and see on Easter evening, and it’s a vital part of the Easter story. After all, imagine what would have happened if Jesus had risen from the dead and simply ascended into heaven. The victory over sin would have been won, but the disciples never would have found out. They would have stayed in a locked room for a while considering the possibilities, and then likely would either have dispersed or died trying. End of story. No hope. No peace.
But Jesus didn’t die merely to defeat sin and death and devil, and then tell no one and leave His people as uninformed victims. So, He appears to His disciples. He shows them He’s risen, body and all. Shows them the holes in His hands that were nailed to cross, the hole in His side from which blood and water flowed. He tells them what it means—they’re at peace with God, and God will raise them up from the dead, body and all, to everlasting life.
That takes care of the disciples, but it doesn’t help anybody else. Let’s say there’s someone laying in a hospital bed suffering the physical pains of burns and feeling bad that it was their own actions that put them there, realizing that their days are drawing to an end. In such times, the devil likes to pour it on, to make you feel even worse. To make you feel guilty when it was an accident, there really wasn’t any sin at all. Such a man needs to hear someone speak Jesus’ peace.
And so He sends His called and ordained servant, or if he is not available He sends one of you: “Peace be with you. I made you My own child and have given you My Holy Spirit in the water and Word of Holy Baptism. I’ve fed you My true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. I love you. I’ll care for you. I will bring you healing, if not now, most certainly in the day of resurrection, where you will be raised body and soul to eternal life. Whatever happens in the days and hours ahead, know that I am with you.”
Or let’s say there’s someone sitting in the pews today, who is mourning the loss of a loved one. In the back of their mind, they knew he wouldn’t be around forever, but everything happened so fast, there wasn’t much chance to get prepared, if anyone can ever be prepared for the death of a loved one. There wasn’t a lot of time for long good-byes, to heal old hurts, to give thanks for all they brought into the lives of others, or to reminisce about the good times they shared together. Such a woman or man or child needs to hear someone speak Jesus’ peace.
And so, I am privileged to do today in Jesus’ stead and by His command: “Peace be with you. You are forgiven for all of sins. You are my child. I love you. I love your loved one who has just died even more than you do. I mourn his death also, for man was not intended to die. But, I went to the cross and grave to defeat sin and death, so that you and your loved one and all of My people might be with Me forever. In the meanwhile, I will be with you every step of the way of your grief. Turn to Me. Lean on Me. Speak to Me. Listen to Me.”
But there are a lot of people who aren’t here today to hear me speak Jesus’ peace. A good share of them will not hear the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life any time this week. They may never hear a pastor speak Jesus’ peace in a worship setting or in private.
That’s where you come in. Jesus’ peace isn’t just for pastors to speak. He gave it to the whole Church. He gave it to you. Whenever you tell someone of Christ’s death and resurrection, or whenever you tell them that they are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, you are declaring the peace that Christ died and rose to give. It doesn’t matter if the speaker is a 95-year-old man or a three-year-old girl: what matters is the message, because the message is the message of Jesus’ peace.
It’s by that Word of the Lord that we declare Christ’s victory over sin and death. It’s by His Word that we show people Jesus’ hands and side and say, “He died for you. This is for you! It’s with this Gospel that we say, “Peace be with you.” It is by this Good News that Easter continues—all the time, not just once a year—until the Lord returns.
In our present day, we look at Easter and think of it as a once-a-year celebration, as a big Sunday. For the early Christians, it was different: every Sunday was a little Easter. This remains true today. Whenever the people of God are gathered together around His Word and Sacraments, Jesus is in the midst of them. He is present to give them the victory He has won by His death and resurrection. He is present to say, “Peace be with you.” He is present to give you His Word, that you might have the privilege of taking it to others. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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