That Elusive Peace, April 19

That Elusive Peace

Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, and Quarryville United Methodist Churches; April 19, 2020

 

Flummoxed.  That’s what they were that Easter evening.  They were flummoxed and afraid.  Jesus who had died was now gone.  No, not just dead, but the body gone, vanished.  Peter and John attested that the body was not where it had been left on Friday evening. Mary said she’d seen Jesus himself after they left, but that was awfully hard to believe.  They didn’t know what to think, what to believe, nor what to do.  They were afraid; those who had used their power to have Jesus arrested and executed probably had their eyes on them as well.  And now this oddness, the body of their friend, their master, simply gone, without a trace.  They came together, and when they were all there, they locked the door behind them.  It didn’t erase their fear, but it helped them manage it. 

 

Then, Jesus was there.  Alive.  Just as Mary had said.  In fact, it was just as Jesus had said.  Just as they couldn’t quite believe, yet here he was.  ‘Peace be with you,’ he says.  Peace.  That blessing of peace, it’s what he’d offered them Thursday night, only three days ago, though it seemed like weeks at this point.  He had said, ‘Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’  But their hearts had been troubled – when he’d been arrested, and unfairly tried, and then nailed to the cross, and then he had died.  Their hope, their friend, their leader had died, killed by powers beyond their control.  Their hearts had been deeply troubled.  And they had been afraid, constantly afraid, ever since the soldiers had come with Judas to the garden to take him away.  Jesus knows what they need.  ‘Peace be with you,’ he says.  Then he shows them his wounds, the holes in his hands they had watched the soldiers make.  This was really Jesus, alive again.

 

The text then says they rejoiced.  They were thrilled.  Jesus was alive, here, with them, even in their fear.  Jesus blesses them with peace a second time, and breathes the Holy Spirit onto them all.  That’s the end of the narrative for that evening.  We can guess that Jesus stayed with them that evening, talking, answering questions.  But we’re not told that.  What’s important, apparently, is that they are given the Spirit and they are given Christ’s peace. 

 

John’s narrative is not the only story we’re given about the risen Christ.  We have four gospel accounts of the story of Jesus, and we have at least three or four other writers of New Testament books that witness to the power and presence of the resurrected Christ.  They’re not all the same.  They don’t tell the same stories; they don’t focus on the same details. But there are consistent threads among them all, things they all agree on.

 

  1. There are communities of followers of Jesus who continue to meet and worship and eat together and share their lives.  These communities start out as part of the larger Jewish community, but soon move beyond the bounds of Judaism and eventually, probably by the end of the first century, pull away from Judaism.
  2. These communities are sustained by the power of the real presence of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus.
  3. These communities, and those who are part of them, are marked by the presence of peace.  They greet one another in peace, they exchange peace when they gather, they are committed to live together in peace, and they won’t fight in the armies of the emperor.

 

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is at the core of the continuation and growth of the small group of followers of Jesus who walked with him into Jerusalem. The reality of the resurrection transforms the good news they have to offer.  Their wise teacher who spoke truth to power with courage has now also defeated death itself.  The resurrection refocused their proclamation on all that God had done and continued to do in the name and power of Jesus. But the variety of witnesses in the New Testament that we have of that good news all agree that the power to proclaim that good news comes from the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus. 

 

This story of Jesus breathing the Spirit on his disciples on Easter evening is considered by scholars as John’s Pentecost.  That is, both John and Luke know that the church, the followers of Jesus who continue to meet after his death and resurrection, are marked by the presence of the Spirit.  It’s there; it’s real; and none of the New Testament churches would exist without the Spirit.  Luke and John tell different stories of how the Spirit comes to the disciples.  Jesus breathes the Spirit on them here; Luke tells of Pentecost, when a mighty wind blows and the Spirit falls on the disciples as tongues as of fire.  Matthew simply says that Jesus tells his disciples, in Galilee, not in Jerusalem, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’  No-one disagrees that the church exists because of the Spirit of Jesus in its midst.  The presence of the Spirit is essential to the early church, and to the church today.

 

The witness of the character of those churches made real by the Spirit of Jesus is that they are communities of peace.  John is explicit that Jesus greets his disciples over and over again, three times in the passage we read today, with a blessing of peace.  Luke also tells of Jesus greeting the gathered disciples on Easter evening with ‘Peace be with you.’ Paul uses the greeting of ‘grace and peace to you’, when he writes to his churches, and the churches themselves included an exchange of peace when they were together.  It’s why we pass the peace regularly in our own worship.  The gathering of the church of Jesus Christ is identified by the presence of the peace that passes all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Christ.  That’s a word from Paul in Philippians.

 

Our days in this season, in the Spring of the year of our Lord 2020, are not days obviously marked by peace.  We hear Jesus’ blessing of peace to his disciples before his death and long for that peace in our lives.  My peace I give to you – do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  But we are afraid.  We are deeply troubled.  People we love are getting sick; The Pines nursing home, just up the road, had more than twenty-five cases of Covid-19 among staff and residents, as of five days ago.  Friends are losing jobs, and small business in town are struggling to stay afloat.  We easily identify with the disciples who pulled away from the crowds and locked themselves into the house together, flummoxed, confused, and afraid.  Except we are alone, or in couples, or small families. 

 

So notice, friends, that Jesus comes to the disciples when they are precisely where we are.  He doesn’t wait until they’ve got their feet back under them.  He doesn’t sit outside ringing the doorbell.  He comes into their disheveled and frightened midst.  And offers peace.  Not judgement, not correction. Jesus greets them with peace.  Peace be with you, he says.  That peace that marks this gathering, and all the gatherings in Jesus’ name since that Easter evening, is not a peace that we make happen by being nice or gentle or calm.  It’s a gift of the risen Christ, and we can rest in it because we trust that the Spirit of the risen Christ is with us.  Even when we’re by ourselves, separated from one another, when we can’t even worship in the same space.  Even then, the peace of Christ is offered to you. 

 

Notice, too, that this peace of Christ is not complacent.  The communities that we know as the early churches were filled with energy, to love and to serve and to share the good news of Christ’s power and peace with their neighbors.  Claiming Christ’s peace as our own awakens us to the depth of the Spirit of Christ within us and among us.  It animates us to let go of fear and move into life in love, offering ourselves, our prayers, presence, gifts, and service for the work of the church, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, speaking up for the voiceless and powerless and listening when they speak for themselves.

 

How do we claim this peace?  How do we make it our own?  Our longing for the presence of Christ opens our hearts to Christ’s peace.  “Believe” has become too close to a synonym for ‘think.’  Christ’s peace is not about what we think or understand about Jesus or about God or anything else.  It’s the peace that passes understanding that we long for. The disciples surely weren’t thinking straight on that first Easter evening when Jesus showed up.  But they rejoiced and welcomed Jesus with them.  Jesus still comes, into our locked-down homes, into our locked-down hearts, into our fear-filled lives, offering his blessing of peace and power.  Claim it, friends.  Christ’s peace will not banish the corona virus from the world.  Christ’s peace will give us the peace and power to face our loneliness and our fear as only a part of the reality we’re living in.  The love that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is still at work in this world, through you, through respiratory therapists, and research scientists, through teachers who teach online and truckers who drive cases of pasta to small town grocery stores.  May Christ’s peace and love be yours, today and from this day forward.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, …

22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm 16

Song of Trust and Security in God

1Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

5The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

    I have a goodly heritage.

7I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

8I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

10For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11You show me the path of life.

In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

1 Peter 1:3-9

A Living Hope

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice,* even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen* him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

John 20:19-31

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

 

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.