Sermon 2nd Sunday after Easter 11 April 2021
Acts 4:32-37. Ps. 133. 1 John 1:1-2:2. John 20:19-31
Peace be with you. This is the greeting we make during the Greeting of Peace. It is an ancient greeting. The Hebrew word Shalom is most likely the word Jesus used in his greeting. Shalom. Peace be with you.
I watched a movie some time ago called Collateral Beauty. It is the story of an advertising businessman who experiences tragedy. Howard, the main character, played by Will Smith, explains three major things in life that become the focus of our lives, Love, Death and Time. He says, ‘we long for love, we wish we had more time and we fear death’. Howard writes letters to love, death and time and three actors take on the roles of each to approach Howard and enter into conversation with him. It is difficult, painful, but heart warming too.
In one scene, Love approaches Howard and states: “Trust love, I did it for you, (and you betrayed me, you broke my trust). I meant all of it. I’m the darkness and the light, I’m the sunshine and the rain, I’m also here now in the pain, I’m the reason for everything” These words remind me of the need for Jesus to say ‘Peace be with you’ to the disciples. A bit like Howard in the movie needing to hear these words.
Our Gospel reading today follows on from Easter Day. It is now evening of the same day that Mary Magdalene has run to tell the disciples of Jesus resurrection and that she has seen the Lord. We find the disciples locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Mary had visited the place Jesus had been laid by Joseph of Arimethea. Mary visited the tomb out in the open yet now we find the disciples locked in a room out of fear. For them, it was a very real fear of being discovered and as followers of Jesus, the very real fear of being put to death.
And ‘Jesus came and stood among them.’ (Jn 20:19b) First of all, think about what this means for the disciples who are already gripped by fear. Think about what it meant for them to see Jesus. Their Lord and Messiah had just been put to death by the authorities and the disciples had all fled in fear. So much so that Peter openly denied knowing Jesus. Fear had gripped their hearts and minds which prevented them from recalling what Jesus had promised them not once but three times that he would rise from the dead.
In John’s gospel, Jesus had given them an example by bringing his friend Lazarus back from the grave. When Jesus saw Martha grieved at the loss of her brother, Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Jesus was giving Martha hope. Jesus standing in the midst of the disciples gave the disciples hope.
The words Jesus says to the disciples are simple yet profound, ‘Peace be with you’. Shalom, peace be with you. In Hebrew, shalom comes to mean wholeness. Jesus, standing in the midst of the disciples saying Shalom or ‘Peace be with you’ brings to this community of disciples, wholeness in relationship and wholeness in community.
Peace be with you. When you and I say these words to one another in the liturgy we express to one another that sense of coming together in wholeness in relationship, wholeness in community and wholeness with God. It is why we share the peace before the sharing of bread and wine. Once we have put ourselves right with God in the confession, we come to put ourselves right with one another saying Peace be with you. It is not a light thing although it can be expressed with joy. It is not to be taken lightly either. The offering of Shalom, the offering of Peace be with you carries with it a responsibility to put ourselves right with one another.
It is also why when Jesus stands amongst the disciples he greets them with Peace. These once scattered disciples are now hiding out in a locked room for fear of what may happen to them after Jesus death. Jesus stands among them offering peace, to bring them back into communion with one another, to bring wholeness amidst their fear, to bring hope despite their fears.
A week later Thomas joins the disciples. He had not believed the story of Jesus standing in the midst of the disciples in a locked room. He wanted to see proof. He wanted to see Jesus in the flesh. He wanted to the wounds of Jesus. And once again, Jesus comes and stands in their midst, saying ‘Shalom’, Peace be with you. And knowing Thomas struggle with disbelief, asked Thomas to reach out and place his fingers in Jesus wounds, to see them, feel them. Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Do not doubt but believe’. Thomas response is one of wonder, ‘My Lord and my God’. Thomas statement is prompted by seeing Jesus yet Jesus continues by saying, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’.
Fear, doubt and unbelief can rob us of the joy of knowing Jesus. They can rob us of living in community more fully, they can rob us of a genuine relationship with God. Love, faith, and the offering of peace to one another help to shape us as the people of God, called to live by faith, to show the love and grace of God to others and to share in his peace.
Shalom, Peace be with you.