April 28, 2019

Easter 2   April 28, 2019 (Ps 150, Revelation 1:4-8, Acts 5:27-32) John 20:19-31

Peace be with you

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Later on that first day of resurrection… followers of Jesus are gathered together behind locked doors….

They’ve heard the amazing story told by Mary Magdalene, the first eyewitness…

Heard about the stone, rolled away – the tomb, empty – the grave clothes, empty and rolled up… Heard about angels in white, asking Mary “why are you weeping?”  Heard about the man who Mary first thinks must be the gardener – who, like the angels, asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”…

They’ve heard Mary tell how she recognized him, finally – alive! – as he called her name, and said, ‘go, tell the others – I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God’…

The disciples have all heard the story. And they’re still afraid…

The powers-that-be of church and state have laid Jesus in the tomb… The disciples figure they may be next…

But now Jesus passes through their locked doors, and greets them –  “Peace be with you.” Giving the same ordinary-greeting everyone in those days gave and received…every day…

Except now this everyday greeting – Peace be with you – is the voice of new life, risen from the dead… As Jesus shows disciples the marks of the nails imprinted in his hands – the mark of the spear that pierced his side… Still carrying the death of the world in his body of resurrection life.***

In the beginning was the Word,  and the Word was with God,

and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

All things came into being through him,

and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being in him was life–

and the life was the light of all people.

…And the Word became flesh and lived among us – and we have seen his glory – the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth….

These verses from the beginning of John’s gospel remind us – Jesus coming into the world is cosmic – effecting everyone – everything – everywhere. And the new creation in Christ is every bit as awesome – beautiful – and hard to get our heads around… as the first creation that sets everything in motion…

John’s gospel, from the beginning, tells us the mystery of God-in-human-flesh- living-among-us – changes everything. Now all the world’s sorrow and joy, pain and blessing, are all bound together in one body. Love’s body. Christ’s body.

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And Jesus says “Peace be with you” now a second time. Adding “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I wonder how would that sound to his first followers? Imagine– Jesus telling us he’s sending us – as he’s been sent by God the Father – showing us, as he speaks – the fresh scars of the wounds on his hands and side.

But – he breathes the breath of resurrection-life – like God, breathing first-life, first-breath, into Adam, in the garden, in the beginning… (And Jesus is the Gardener… Mary wasn’t wrong last week.) Jesus says“Receive the Holy Spirit.” The same word in Hebrew (ruah) and in Greek (pneuma) means wind, breath, and spirit… and…

Jesus breathes on us, like a flash-back to the Garden… and a preview of Pentecost… Empowering us with his Spirit… Commissioning us to forgive, or even delay forgiveness – til accountability is established… (Awesome responsibility – given to us as Christ’s church. Responsibility we can only rightly carry out together in the Spirit’s power – with the wisdom that comes with diversity of gifts, graces and angles of vision… and with the cultivation of deep humility…)

And now the Peace be with you that Jesus gives – reminds disciples of things he said on his last night before his death on the cross: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I don’t give as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid…(14:27)”  And – “I have said this to you so that you may have peace. In the world you will have persecutions – but take courage, I have overcome the world…”

The peace Jesus gives, unlike the peace the world gives, is deep and abiding…

As Jesus walks through walls and locked doors to reach us… Breathes new life into us, and sends us… to continue his work of new creation….

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And Jesus says now a third time, a week later – Peace be with you. Saying to Thomas, who wasn’t there – and who has said aloud – I won’t believe unless I see and touch Jesus for myself – “Look at my hands and side. Touch and see – the scars are real. Don’t disbelieve. Believe.”  We don’t know if Thomas actually touches – or just sees – but either way we notice – when Jesus says Peace be with you – now, this third time – he’s also saying – yes –  you’re still my friends – yes, still my family – even though one of you denied three times he even knew me – and all of you except the women and one man (we may assume is John, though he never says so) – all ran, and left me alone, bleeding and dying on the cross… Still – Peace be with you all – Jesus says.

And so I’m hearing Peace be with you – as Jesus’ other main message today – at least as much the words he speaks to Thomas, when he says “Do you believe now because you see? Blessed are those who believe without seeing…”

Because I’m not hearing Jesus preaching against seeing. Remembering – Jesus tells two curious seekers in John’s first chapter “come and see” – when they ask where he’s staying. Tells another doubting disciple, Nathanael, in that same first chapter “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man…”  Seeing Jesus – for who he is – is actually another major theme in John’s gospel. Jesus giving sight to a blind man takes up a whole chapter (9) in John’s gospel….There’s nothing wrong with seeing, or wanting to see Jesus.

So I’m hearing Jesus’ admonition about believing without having to see – as mostly about learning to trust the vision of other members of the body of Christ –  and realizing our mutual interdependence on each other for vision…As we notice how – disciples who didn’t quite believe Mary Magdalene when she told them earlier that same day “I have seen the Lord” – now channel her words when Thomas rejoins them, saying“We have seen the Lord.” Slow learners, all of us…

So – I’m guessing Thomas isn’t a greater doubter than the rest of us  – probably just more honest about his doubts. And yes, Jesus says it’s more blessed to believe, without having to touch, or see… But Jesus even invites us to touch and see with Thomas – if that’s what it takes to overcome doubt and fear…

This really isn’t a story about Thomas and his personal issues – nearly so much as about Jesus – teaching all of us doubting disciples – to build our relationship with Jesus on trust – not on the shifting sands of what we think we see – or the world’s ever-changing-standards of “evidence.”

And let’s not judge other disciples harshly because – the story isn’t over till it’s over… and… In our reading from Acts today, we see again the same disciples…just a few weeks later, now, fully emerged from behind locked doors – bearing, now, the marks of the cross – displaying, now, the power of the resurrection. Preaching and teaching with power. Saying no to the powers-that-be. As the infant church grows rapidly – and from the get-go – followers of Jesus are treated as Jesus was – sometimes with honor – sometimes beaten, whipped, jailed, even killed. The church, like Jesus, bears the marks of the cross… along with the marks of resurrection…

I remember one Sunday in church in Boston (Bethany United Methodist, where I met Reah…) a West African man named Peter visited our church. After church, he must have noticed me looking at the scars on his neck and arms as we talked. He said “I’m an evangelist. The Holy Spirit sent me to preach in a war zone. The military told me not to preach. I preached.  (It wasn’t my idea.)  I was sent

The scars are from torture. But I had to preach… I was sent…”

This man wasn’t gloomy or fearful. And the marks of the cross, his visible scars, were evidence of his deep faith and love for God. And the marks of the resurrection were even more visible – in his faith and love and courage….

Christians in many parts of the world still bear the marks of the cross visibly like this.  In Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan… Egypt… China…  many places around the world – living the gospel can still result in jail, torture, even death.

Here in the US, the price of living the gospel is usually much less. (Though we’ve had murders in churches in South Carolina and Texas…And several Black churches in the South were burned by racists just a few weeks ago.)

If we’re following Jesus we should expect to bear the marks of the cross of Christ… Though our cross may often be concealed. Our pain often hidden…

Our cross may be loneliness that comes with estrangement from family or friends because of the gospel. Our cross may be ridicule or difficulties that come with the gospel. Our cross may be not being able to do things we once did… but can’t do now, because of the gospel… Our specifics are different, but we all must bear the cross… Which is ultimately always…

A small price to pay… for the amazing grace, the wondrous love – the life of beauty and joy we have in Jesus Christ…

As we too are sent, by Jesus – scars, tears, blessings and joy, all mixed together…  As we live together the life of Jesus… in this world he came to save…

Inviting the world to come – touch and see Jesus alive in his church…

Challenging all to believe – even without touching or seeing.

Trusting always in Jesus – and…

Believing always – in the beloved community Christ calls us into, together…

His community of new-creation –

His community of every-day people, called and sent…

To continue his resurrection life… on earth… as it is in heaven…

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.