Weekend before last I was the keynote speaker at a retreat for high school and college students called Serving and Learning Together (SALT) at Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center. Based on John 20:19-22, the theme for the weekend was “Sent”. It was the weekend after the election, which I felt compelled to address by speaking what I believe to be truth without being inappropriately partisan. This is my sermon, leading into communion, from the closing worship service. The scene of the disciples huddled behind closed doors in fear proved to be a evocative image for these post-election days of anger and fear.
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
(John 20:19-22, CEB)
“Jesus came and stood among them. He said, ‘Peace be with you.'”
Here’s how I imagine this scene. When Jesus first enters the room and stands among them, they don’t recognize who he is. It isn’t a stretch to assume this, because it happens that way in quite a few of the resurrection appearances recorded in the gospels. Something about the resurrected Jesus is just different enough that even his closest followers don’t recognize him at first.
So here they are—afraid; locked up behind closed doors; questioning everything they had dedicated their lives to for three years; grieving; betrayed; confused; wondering if they would be the next to die—when suddenly someone is standing beside them. Keep in mind, the door was locked, yet here is this stranger. When we read it now, knowing that it is Jesus, we often think of it as some kind of miracle. Somehow, the resurrected Jesus was able to walk through the locked door or simply appear among them. But let’s imagine that they don’t know that yet. Perhaps they are suddenly paralyzed with fear, thinking that this stranger among them had broken through their locked doors and was there to bring them to “justice”, in the same way they had brought Jesus to “justice”.
Their fears subside when the stranger, gently, calmly, reassuringly says to them, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you.
As the thought sinks in, I imagine that they get a little angry. They recall the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel who chastised people for saying “peace, peace” when there really was no peace. How can this stranger be so glib? How dare he utter a word of peace when everything they know and love has been taken away from them. When their hopes and dreams have been shattered. When they saw their messiah strung up and killed while bloodthirsty crowds cheered on. When they realized, seemingly for the first time, how divided their people really are, how pervasive fear and hatred really is. How dare he say “peace”. We’re not ready to hear that. Let us dwell in our anger and grief just a little longer. Don’t try to silence our legitimate cries of pain and suffering. Don’t add insult to injury by trying to sweep this catastrophe under the rug. Don’t tell us to suck it up and move on.
Many people today feel the same way. Whether we agree with them or not, people are protesting in the streets because they are angry and afraid. How do we simply tell them, “peace”?
There are people in our communities, or in neighboring communities, who have no hope for economic improvement. They’re trapped in cycles of poverty that seem inescapable. How do we tell them, “peace”?
There are people who feel like the world they have known their entire life is slipping away, like the values they hold sacred are being mocked and trampled, like the safety and security they worked so hard to provide for their children and grandchildren is being threatened at all times. How do we tell them, “peace”?
There are people who suffer discrimination and oppression on a daily basis; people who are marginalized and made to feel less than fully human; people who are bullied; people who fear for their lives every day. How do we tell them, “peace”?
There are people whose families are falling apart, whose relationships are ending. Children torn between two parents; children with only one parent; children with no parents. How do we tell them, “peace”?
There are people dying from incurable diseases; people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses; people who sit by bedsides and weep; people who mourn. How do we tell them, “peace”?
Black lives are taken by police and police lives are taken in return. How do we say, “peace, peace” when there is no peace?
Deadly wars—”civil” wars—rage across our globe. Some of our own loved ones are deployed to those places of conflict. Refugees flee horror for the unknown and sometimes find only more horror. How do we say, “peace, peace” when there is no peace?
Yet here is this stranger among us, gently, calmly, reassuringly saying to us, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you.
“After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”
He showed them his scars. And it caused their scars, not the visible ones but the ones deep down inside of them, to burn. Not a painful burn, but a soothing burn. A healing burn.
When they saw his hands and his sides, they remembered the meal they shared with him just a few days ago. They suddenly saw that meal in a whole new light because of all they had just experienced.
They remembered when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. When you eat this, remember me.”
They remembered when he took the cup after the meal and said, “This is the new covenant, sealed in my blood. When you drink this, remember me.”
And in that moment, they recognized who was among them. They recognized that Jesus isn’t dead; he’s alive. They recognized that God isn’t far away; God is right here—among us, within us. They realized, for the first time in their lives, that there is no pain, no suffering, no tragedy, no loss, no setback—nothing—beyond the redemptive power of God’s love. They realized for the first time in their lives, what it means to say, “Peace be with you.”
They remembered the prayer Jesus taught them to pray, a prayer of radical and subversive hope for the coming of God’s kingdom. And so they prayed together.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
“When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.”
Friends these are the gifts of God, for the people of God. Let us sing. Let us eat. Let us taste and see that God is good. Let us throw open the locked doors, get out of our boxes, and go into the world to which we are sent.