A sermon preached at Federated Church: John 20:19-31
I don’t know about you, but when I have something really big happen to me, what usually follows is a hangover.
I don’t mean a literal drunken hangover (well, maybe it has happened before), but an emotional one where I have to take a step back and process.
Call it the day all the kids leave the house after Christmas or spring break holidays.
Call it the day after you get home from a vacation when you discover you need a vacation from the vacation.
Call it the day after you just graduate from the college program you’ve been waiting for years to complete.
You know, the kind of day where all you want to do is stay in your pajamas, let incoming calls to go to voicemail or you sit your kids in front of the tv without guilt so that there’s space in your life to rest and regroup. We ALL needs days like this—days without calling ourselves “lazy” for taking them—especially when we’ve just gotten through something that required a lot of energy from us.
And this is exactly the place where we meet the disciples on two different occasions after the resurrection occurred.
On the first occasion, it's the evening of resurrection day and the second is exactly one week later. The 11 disciples (Judas is no longer with them) and probably some women too have locked themselves in a house. This house is not far from Jerusalem, and they are camped out there because they can’t bring themselves to do much of anything other than be together as Jesus’ closest friends.
They are exhausted. They are moody. They are disillusioned. They probably don’t feel like eating though maybe Lazarus’ sister, Martha was there trying to force feed like a good Jewish mother would. But, most of all, I can imagine the disciples were afraid.
If they had their pajamas near by, I’m sure they were wearing them. I can imagine they had not combed their hair in a while.
For Jesus, their beloved, teacher, leader, prophet, healer and friend has died. And when someone we love dies, the best thing, we usually know how to do is retreat.
The greatest grief of all for the disciples, I believe was the fact that they are now living in a world without a plan B. They've all severed family ties, left jobs and made a fool of themselves—some would say—to commit to follow Jesus. And this revolution, they thought they were leading, seemingly had died with their leader. What in the world were they to do next?
But then strange things begin to happen. Reports come from Mary that “she’d seen the Lord” Peter and John confirm her testimony that Jesus’ body was indeed gone from the tomb.
Maybe, just maybe, what Jesus said all those years about rising on the third day was true? Or maybe not?
Wasn’t it the case that grief can play tricks on your mind? What these three saw couldn’t really be true, could it?
But then, an even more surprising even occurs—without knocking on the doors and entering in as a normal person would, the resurrected Lord, is in the room with them. He says these simple words, “Peace be with you.”
What a shock of an appearance!
“Peace be with you.”
Of all the words that Jesus chose to be his first words of resurrection to these guys, isn’t it amazing that “peace be with you” was his first?
Jesus could have played the role of a disappointed parent.
“How could you boys disown me like you did? Not one of you showed up at the cross to be with me?”
Jesus could have played the role of an angered friend.
“How could you call me your best friend and not stay with me when I needed you the most?”
Jesus could have played the role of a strict teacher.
“How could you students not pay attention to all I had told you about the way I would die?”
But Jesus does none of these things—he only says, “Peace be with you.” It’s a word of forgiveness and most of all love!
For what his resurrection brought to these broken down, emotionally tired and depressed disciples was PEACE, not harassment, disapproval or judgment.
So if we are talk this morning about what it means to be people of the resurrection, then I believe our first clue is the word peace.
Peace can kind of be one of those clique words with religious and cultural meaning that we rarely define.
When I say peace, you might think of the hippie movement of peace and love for all made popular in the 1960s.
When I say peace, you might think of a word we use a lot at Christmas time—signing our Christmas cards with the words, “Love, Peace and Joy from our family to yours.”
When I say peace, you might even think of a practice of greeting at churches—that we don’t do often around here but many others do—the practice of greeting one another in the peace of Christ. “The peace of Christ be with you (and also with you).”
But what did Jesus actually mean when he offered peace to his disciples?
Theologian Elisabeth Johnson helps us understand the context for Jesus’ use of the word peace in this resurrection appearance saying his greeting, “Peace be with you,” carries the sense of the Hebrew greeting “shalom’” (a word all the disciples would have known as a way to talk about the presence of God among them).
Johnson goes to say that this blessing “connotes more than tranquility, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being.”
Or in other words, Jesus’ “Peace be with you” during the appearance to the disciples alone and the appearance when Thomas is present—tell us that resurrection isn’t about perfect clarity or even perfect restoration of mind, but it is about a deep sense of knowing.
Though outward circumstances may not have changed and may not anytime soon, Jesus’ gift of peace is an invitation to abide differently in the world.
For though the disciples could have chosen at this moment to believe Jesus was maybe a phantom of their imagination or maybe a ghost, the gift of peace said, “Even if you don’t understand what is going on right now, it is going to be ok.”
The more specific call for the disciples came after the this greeting of peace. Saying in verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Or how I would paraphrase it, “Boys put your pajamas and your comfort food away and get out in that great big ole world and share my message with other people. Don’t confine your life to these locked doors!”
But how much more secure these locked doors made them feel! And how easy it was to consider staying there!
This week, Kevin and I traveled throughout the northwestern part of the country of Honduras, visiting communities and programs supported by the donors of Feed the Children. Honduras, as we have learned over the course of our numerous visits to the country is a nation that struggles with deeply embedded corruption, gangs and thousands of its citizens living on less than $1 US a day.
And one of his most important issues all Hondurans if you asked them is security. Seemingly, the government is “working on it.” For, you can hardly travel from one town to the next without being stopped at a police checkpoint run by the members of the Honduran military. It would be like traveling from Weatherford to Clinton and being stopped at least 2 times on I-40 by an armed guard wanting to inquire as to your plans for movement.
Thus, you would think with all of this security that Honduran residents would feel safe. But the thing is they don’t.
We heard story after story along the way this week from some of our Honduran friends about how even the poorest of the poor spend their money to build barbed wire fences around the high walls and gates of their homes. Francisco, our regional director based there told us about the security strategy of most: “Get good locks and don’t come out unnecessarily.” He went on to say, “What people don’t realize by insulating themselves in this way, it doesn’t actually save their lives. Instead, it just cuts them off from their larger community, a community that could help them if a crisis came. Walls and wire don’t keep danger away. But it’s a hard lesson for us to learn.”
And so, I believe the same way Jesus speaks to his disciples. As much as they wanted to build walls and add more locks to their doors, keeping the pain “out there” Jesus says, I give you peace so you don’t have to be afraid to “go out there.”
You don’t have to be afraid of what is to come because I am alive and I am commissioning you for greatness in my name.
And for us as modern-day disciples, the call for us is the same too.
Resurrection in our own lives means you and I might not get all the answers we want about life when we want them.
We might not understand the crazy things that happen to us as we follow Jesus, when resurrection appears right before our eyes.
We might not be handed from on high a document with 20 bullet points of what comes next.
But, as people of the resurrection Jesus leave us peace, peace that leads us out. For what might normally keep us with the covers over our head at home is the gift that leads us to connect with others that we might have otherwise known.
Kate Huey, a member of the leadership team at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland says this about living out this text:
“It's a great temptation in the life of the church to huddle behind massive, beautiful doors, to hide out from a world in pain and great need, and to make our faith a personal, private thing that has nothing to do with that pain or that need.”
But, isn’t it our mission she goes on to say, to fling open wide the doors of our homes, our families, our churches and to love the world without judgment as Christ has loved us?
And it’s peace that leads us out! It’s peace that teaches us that all shall be well, all matter of things shall be well. It’s peace that invites us from despair to get up wash our face, brush our hair, put on better clothes and show love to somebody. It’s peace that gives churches like ours courage to keep on keeping on, even when we feel like we’re suck more in the emotions of Good Friday rather than Easter Sunday. It’s peace that leads us to create new ministries, to welcome in the stranger, and to dream new dreams.
“My peace I leave with you.”
No matter what comes your way, no matter how insecure you feel, no matter ho much you long to retreat, lock your doors and hide, we are Easter people. God gave us peace through our resurrected Lord so do not be afraid.