“Peace be with you.” The first words Jesus utters to his disciples upon his resurrection are words of peace. The first words Jesus offers to the one who doubts are words of peace. Even before his death, Jesus gave his disciples words of peace, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The peace
Jesus offers is a very different peace than what the world assumes.
I love the passing of the peace amidst the liturgy on Sunday morning—it is a chaotic and cacophonous time. It is purposely placed in the hinge moment between the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Table in the Eucharist. It is meant to be an opportunity for us to make amends with one another in Christ before we feast at the Lord’s Table. In that moment, we turn to one another in our pews and even cross the aisle to offer words of peace and a touch. A loving smile, a handshake, a gentle squeeze on the shoulder accompany those words and express the sincerity with which we offer them.
In our last Sunday of public worship, way back in the beginning of March when we were slowly becoming increasingly aware of the threat that lurked, invisible and incomprehensible, we shared our last peace together as the body of Christ gathered under one roof; worshipping our one Lord. In that moment, many of us had already begun to be reluctant to touch another—we did the “elbow tango” or the “fist bump” or simply flashed the two finger V-shape sign for peace toward one another. There was something a bit silly and a bit naïve in that moment—silly because no one really understood what the next several weeks into an unforeseeable future would bring and naïve in not recognizing how fleeting our time together actually was.
I wonder if the disciples realized that at the Last Supper. Did they know it was actually the Last Supper at the time? Did they realize when they got up from the table and went out into the garden how quickly things would deteriorate over night? Did they have time to think about what was happening or simply react to one curve ball after another as it was thrown at them and try to make the best decisions with the little information they had? Whatever happened, it is telling that after that night and in the ensuing days to come they were afraid and their response to that fear was to lock themselves inside and away from others—social distancing even in the first century.
Jesus has appeared to Mary, calmed her fears and sent her forth to do his work. Next he appears to his disciples, offers them peace—not once but twice—and directs them to do his work. And then there is Thomas—the one who doubts, the one who demands to believe on his terms not on God’s—when Jesus confronts him, it too is from a place of peace. There seems to be a pattern developing here—a pattern of peace—offered to all that Jesus encounters regardless of their level of grief or fear or doubt.
Mary’s, the disciples’, even Thomas’s response to this sudden turn of events and loss of things once relied on is an honest response. Grief, fear, and the proclamation of doubt are honest reactions to life when it is turned upside down. There are other honest responses as well—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, hopelessness, despair, even shame and guilt. Those feelings are not only honest, they are normal. Its ok to feel grief and anger and frustration and hopelessness. We are not robots disguised as human beings living some sort of Stepford Wives existence. We are real people with real cares and we get to have all the feels both the good and the bad.
The thing is, we also know the rest of the story. Jesus died on a cross on a Friday afternoon when the sky went black. And he rose from the grave and offered us everlasting life. Jesus has been there, done that, and has the t-shirt. He appears to Mary and she witnesses to the disciples regarding that appearance by saying, “I have seen the Lord.” The disciples will use her exact words when offering their witness to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” And when Thomas finally gets to see Jesus, he will witness to all of us by declaring, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is now Lord over all creation. To call Jesus Lord in a time of sorrow and suffering, fear and anxiety is to know there is something more than our present circumstances; to know that our future is not defined by suffering but by Christ crucified, risen, and ascended. Christ does not remove himself from suffering but has traversed through suffering and overcome it. The peace that Christ offers to us is not that we are removed from suffering and disaster and death but it is to have peace in the midst of the suffering, disaster and death because Christ has already overcome these things. Our faith is not one built on the expectation that we are delivered from suffering but that we find peace within it because Christ has overcome it.
This is the peace Jesus offers to his disciples and later to Thomas in that Upper Room. He doesn’t remove the threat of danger and persecution and death palpable in the city; he extends peace. The presence of Christ is the presence of peace.
In all the ways we have known anxiety and fear, suffering and death we have also known the peace of Christ and the path of life. We know the stories of neighbors checking on one another. We’ve shared the stories of people making face masks and donating them to healthcare workers. Strangers have worked together to stay six feet apart. Because we know the rest of the story, we can be defined by the peace Jesus offers us—the peace that is beyond all understanding; the peace that points us toward hope. And once we realize our hope, then we must respond to God’s call to us.
Jesus doesn’t simply extend peace to us to make us feel better, he does so that he might send us into the world to bear witness to him; to be a non-anxious presence; to be the presence of peace.
Thomas is thought to have been the disciple to have travelled the farthest in spreading the Good News. He is reported to have been a missionary to India where he would die a martyr’s death. Thomas, the one who doubted, believed and witnessed to that belief to the far reaches of the world. We never hear that he actually touched Jesus in that Upper Room—though the offer was made. Instead the sincerity of peace and the release of his demands were expressed in the words of his faith, “My Lord and my God!”
Peace be with you. Amen.
Easter 2A: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31; Psalm 16
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Rev. Candice B. Frazer