Peace Be With You – April 19, 2020

Peace Be With You

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 20:19-31

April 19, 2020

Main Idea – Jesus gives us peace.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Three times in today’s Scripture text Jesus says “Peace be with you” and I have been thinking that we all really are in need of peace.   Twice in the text we are told that the disciples are hiding behind locked doors and certainly, our lives have become dominated by closed and locked doors that keep us safe but also isolate us from the people and the habits of our everyday.  Today’s text is a gift to us for it reminds us of the peace that Jesus brings even despite locked doors.   Not only peace but also purpose and power.

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. The time between Easter Sunday and Pentecost is known as the “Great 50 Days” when we celebrate and contemplate the great mystery and centerpiece of our faith; Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Good News of Christ’s resurrection is too big for only one day of celebration.  In fact, every Sunday is a little Easter, a celebration of God’s love made known to us through Jesus our Christ. 

Today’s text is set in the evening of that first Easter day.  Mary comes to the disciples with the amazing and wonderful news that she had seen the Lord (John 20:18).  But the disciples don’t jump for joy or throw open their doors for a party.  They lock their doors out of fear.  They huddle together in grief, for they can’t believe Mary’s crazy story, and in fear of all those people who had threatened Jesus and anyone with him.  It has been suggested that perhaps they also feared Jesus!  If, by chance, he was alive, surely he would be angry and disappointed at the way they had deserted him.   The first response to the Good News of Christ’s victory over death was to lock the doors in fear and disbelief.

“Jesus, however, will not be stopped by locked doors.  He who is himself the “door” of the sheep (10:7) comes right through those locked doors and appears in the midst of his frightened sheep.  He comes not to confront his disciples with their failures but to grant them peace.” (Elizabeth Johnson, He stands among them and says “Peace be with you.”(20:19) This is not just a greeting.  It is a fulfillment of the promise he made to them at the Last Supper when he 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 be afraid.” (14:27). This is not a hope for peace sometime in the future. It is an invitation to peace beyond anything the world can offer. It is a statement of fact that the peace of Christ was with them at that very moment.  And then Jesus shows them his hands and his side so that they can be sure that it is truly him, who truly died, and is now truly standing among them.  

Finally, they can rejoice!  Jesus repeats the blessing of peace and gives them a commission.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (19:21) It is now their job to share the Good News of God’s love. The peace is theirs to share.   But they don’t have to do it alone.  Jesus had promised them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them always (14:26, 15:26, 16:7b-11, 12-15) and now Jesus breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit” (19:22).  Jesus’ act of breathing on the disciples echoes the breath of God moving over the face of the waters at creation (Gen 1:2).  They are now a new creation empowered with the Holy Spirit, “who [is both] the continuing presence of the Risen Christ with his disciples and the creative power of God always at work to enliven creation itself” (D. Cameron Murchison, Feasting on the Word).  Thus empowered, the disciples now have the responsibility of continuing Jesus’ work.  Their job is to make the love of God known as widely as possible.  This is their mission and purpose (and ours as well!).

Now at this point in the story we might expect a “happily ever after” ending.  In fact, this is how the Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus giving the Great Commission.  But not John’s gospel; the story continues with Thomas’ wish and more locked doors.

Don’t you find it peculiar that after the disciples have this amazing visit with Jesus and anointing with the Holy Spirit, they still are hiding out behind locked doors one week later?  What did they do during that week?  What are they still afraid of?  Thomas had missed out on the first visit and the gift of the Spirit but he remained with the disciples hoping against hope that he too could see Jesus.   And Jesus does come to him, locked doors notwithstanding.  Jesus again says “Peace be with you” (19:26) and he offers to Thomas the same opportunity to see his hands and side as he had the other disciples.  Thomas responds with one of the strongest confessions of faith in the New Testament; a statement of worship and of relationship recognizing Jesus as more than just a beloved leader and teacher. Thomas says to Jesus “My Lord and My God”(19:28).  Jesus then speaks to Thomas and to us, the church throughout the ages, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (19:29) With this blessing, Jesus includes us in the gifts given to the disciples; gifts of peace, purpose and power, despite the locked doors.

In this extraordinary time, we are in need of Jesus’ peace.  We are worried about so many things, so many people.  We are stressed about our health, our families, our jobs, our communities.  There are times when we find ourselves on the verge of panic, our heart racing, our mind spinning.  At those times, Jesus comes to us saying “Peace be with you.  Peace is with you.  Peace I give you. Peace I bring to you.  The peace Jesus gives is not a shallow “don’t worry be happy” kind of peace. It is not a “closed eyes or forced smile ignoring the conflict and hardship surrounding it” kind of peace.  Jesus’ peace comes from experiencing all of life, of delving to the depths of pain and suffering, even unto death, and finding that God is there.  Jesus’ peace is available in any circumstance because there is no place, no time, no circumstance where God is not present with love, and comfort, and peace.  It is a peace that passes all understanding as Paul would say (Phil 4:7). It is a deep, deep peace that cannot be taken away.

Jesus says to us “Just breathe, and know that you are not alone.  Just breathe and know that the Holy Spirit is given to you, for strength, for comfort, for guidance”. In this extraordinary time, we are in need of the breath of the Holy Spirit which not only animates our bodies but empowers us to see beyond ourselves.  We see the needs of our communities and we are empowered to help.  We see the inequalities of our society revealed by this pandemic and we are empowered to advocate for change.  Where some of us are inconvenienced by the stay at home order, others’ lives are profoundly impacted by their roles as essential workers, and still others’ lives are devastated by the loss of a job or by the illness itself.  In this time when we are paying attention to who and what we breath upon, in this time when breathing is precious to those who are sick, it is profound to remember that the Holy Spirit is with us in every breath that we take, guiding us to care for each other.

Our text today proclaims that Jesus can’t be stopped by our locked doors.  The disciples’ doors did not stop him then and our doors do not stop him now.  In this extraordinary time, in the midst of our questions, our doubts, our fears, and our pain, Jesus comes to us speaking peace, giving us purpose, and sharing the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray,

Our Lord and Our God, we praise you.  We are humbled by your love for us.  Thank you for being with us at all times.  Help us to experience your peace even behind our locked doors. Empower us to share the Good News of your love with the world.  Amen.