“Peace be with you.” John 20:19, 21, 26
Fear! That’s what they felt! Fear to the core of their beings. Fear, in spite of Mary’s bold declaration, “I have seen the Lord,” Peter’s testimony that the Tomb was empty and the other disciple seeing the linen cloth that had been placed upon Jesus’ face now carefully folded figuring a body snatcher would not take the time to do that and so believed – all of this did not quell their fear but perhaps even increased it. For if Jesus was enough of a threat to the authorities that they crucified him, how much more of a threat would he be if he was alive! Would the next knock on the door be Roman Soliders coming to get them?
Fear….after Charleston, after Sutherland Springs, Texas; after Sir Lanka, and not just Christians, but Jews, after Pittsburgh and then just yesterday after Poway, California, and Sikhs, after Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and Muslims, after Christchurch, New Zealand… fear has invaded holy space leading to locked doors and in some places armed ushers. A pastor friend of mine shared how on Good Friday a member of his congregation locked the doors of the church after she arrived because she was afraid. Late-comers had to bang on the doors until an usher came to let them in. Fear takes over and when it does faith flies out the window.
Maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t knock. He simply comes among them and says, “Shalom aleykhem,” Aramaic for “Peace be with you.” In doing so Jesus quiets their fear and opens them to resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last word, God does and it is a word of life, of hope, of peace. Imagine what it was like for the disciples to hear Jesus say these words. It was a common greeting. Surely, they heard it many times before. But now this peace carries hope and power beyond their wildest expectations for the one who spoke it was dead and now stands before them, alive. This peace is the peace of God who defeats death. It is rooted in Jesus’ cross and empowered by his resurrection. There is nothing to be afraid of anymore. We share this death defying and life bearing peace with one another – often quite nonchalantly – every Sunday. It’s far more than a friendly greeting. The peace flows from the Risen Lord to his disciples to the church throughout the ages and to us, you and me and from us to others.
Then with the doors of the room still locked, Jesus shares peace with them again and adds, “Just as the Father has sent me, I send you.” They are not to stay hunkered down, but to unlock door and go out into the world to be peace-sharers. Jesus blesses them with the Holy Spirit and empowers them to forgive sins. He does this because peace is not something to keep for themselves, but to share with others. This can be very difficult to do, especially when we or someone we love has been hurt. Knowing God is with us, give us courage to be peace-sharers in the world. Knowing its God’s peace, and not our own, is transformative.
My son Jonathan taught me about this. One afternoon right before he walked in the door from school, I got a phone call from a neighbor. She informed me that her son Joe, had just gotten home and he had seen Jonathan take all the papers from the realtor’s box in front of the Model Home in our development and tossed them all over the lawn. As I hung up, Jonathan walked through the front door. I immediately told him, he was going to pick up those papers and apologize to the sales-woman at the Model Home. I marched him up our driveway and across the street. He picked up every paper. I stood behind him as he knocked on the door. When it opened, I said, “Jonathan has something to tell you.” Instead of listening, she bent down and thanked him for the papers, and then stood up to say to me, “I saw Joe throw those papers all over the yard and was just about to call his mother. How nice of Jonathan to pick them up.” On the way back across the street, I said to my son, “Are you sure you want to be friends with Joe? He lied about you.” To which Jonathan replied, “I want to forgive him.” And he did. But I did not. I retained the sin and always kept an eye on that boy just waiting for him to do something wrong again. You see, when you retain the sin, peace is not shared and you remain stuck in the sin too. Jonathan was free, mom was not.
The next time Jesus says, “Shalom aleykhem,” it’s a week later. The disciples are gathered and though the doors to the room was closed, we don’t know if they were locked, but we do learn that the Disciple Thomas remains locked up in fear for he doesn’t trust what the others told him about the Risen Lord. Thomas needs to see for himself before believing in resurrection peace. We can understand this, no one wants their faith riding on delusions. Each person who joins St. John’s this weekend, checked us out. Some began with a recommendation from a friend, others went to the web-site, they all came to worship, ate at the table, watched our manners, how we care for one another, noticed small gestures, was the peace being shared real or fake, was the love being proclaimed dependable or fickle, were we making God into our own image or was God making us into God’s image. Do we believe in God or only in ourselves? Today we promise to support these newcomers and pray for them in their life in Christ, in other words, to share the peace of Christ with them and they promise to do the same with us.
Tradition holds that the peace doubting Thomas received, along with the evidence of Jesus’ wounded side, feet and hands, was carried to India where as a missionary he established seven churches, and shared faith in the Risen Lord. We too take that peace wherever we go. For some it is into local politics – as two of us are running for the position of township supervisor – Bill Starling in Upper Providence and Chuck Liedike in Lower Frederick. May God’s peace be with them, especially during budget hearings and controversial matters. Other serve on boards, volunteer here at St. John’s and in the community as coaches and scout leaders and in many other roles sharing God’s peace in every relationship. The peace lives in our families, goes with us to work and into the voting booth. God’s peace is there when the crying baby finally falls to sleep, the two-year old’s temper tantrum ends, and the teenager’s angst settles into general annoyance – and know that it was there getting them through the tears and the struggles too. The peace grows when forgiveness is granted and trusted to be real. The thing about peace, the more we share it, the more there is to share.
So today share the peace of the Risen Christ with joy – unabashed Easter Joy! Look into one another eyes – say the other’s name and if you don’t know it, ask and tell them yours too. And now may God’s peace which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Risen Lord and Savior. Amen