Peace be with you
Readings: Act 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31
Sunday, April 11
By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan
There is so much going on in both of these readings today and so much going on in our lives that it is hard to find a starting place for reflection. . .until we stop and listen to what Jesus says three times: “Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”
Thank you, Jesus, for being the peace that surpasses all understanding. Thank you for guarding and strengthening our hearts and being with us even when we are less than peaceful.
The disciples were less than peaceful. In fact, they were scared to death. Jesus had just been crucified. Word was out that he had resurrected and was on the loose. His closest friends were afraid that the regime that killed Jesus would come after them. All of them except Thomas were huddled behind closed doors. We don’t know why Thomas was not there the first time. Maybe he was a bit braver than the others and was walking around on the streets. Maybe he was huddled at home. So much we don’t know.
We don’t know the depths of each other’s lives. Some of us are still closed up at home during this pandemic. Some of us are venturing out with cautions after getting vaccinated. In our Easter sunrise service we offered prayers of lament for those who died from the virus and prayers of hope for the vaccines becoming more available. Outdoors in the field, with joy at seeing each other making us giddy, a Spirit rose up in us and for us. We wanted to reach out a hand or give a kiss of peace, but we did not, because we are still rightfully cautious as the disciples were in that upper room. None of us would have been shocked if Jesus himself stood eight feet apart from us and gave a blessing:
“Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”
Today we received two post-resurrection stories. First, Jesus bringing peace to his frightened friends in the early days of their grief. And second, the Holy Spirit arriving in a radical experience of a small group of people deciding that they had more than enough to give it away to those in need.
The story from Acts recounts how months after Jesus came and left followers continued to gather bear witness as to how their faith had grown exponentially. The Spirit that had been breathed on them when Jesus showed up was acting like yeast. Listen again: “They held everything in common. . .there were no needy persons among them. . .those who owned property sold it and brought the proceeds and placed it under the care of the Apostles where it was distributed to anyone who was in need. All that they had they gave to those in need.”
Talk about a resurrection story! A band of fearful people giving all they had to help the world, not holding on to their treasures “for a rainy day” or for their own children or grandchildren, but giving it to those in front of them who were in need.
It has been said that the “sell it and give it away” attitude and practice of the early Christian communities was what drew people to the faith. The idea that Jesus had been resurrected was doubted by many strangers — as Thomas doubted at first what his friends had told him — but the resurrected community was and is a living example that cannot be restrained. It attracted many people and troubled others.
Believing in a resurrected Lord is not a safety net. It was not with the Roman Empire watching and it should not be now. It should be labeled “live this way at your own risk.” Resurrection living should make us tremble. It should make us act like Thomas — running toward, not away, from the wounds of the world.
Here is the resurrection truth. Our old ways of being church died with COVID-19. And yet here we are in our second year of worshipping virtually and serving outside. We are attracting people in our town and at a distance including many of you who give your all because you see that what you are giving is being given out. Feeding the hungry and caring for those in need. Keeping our worship services going and reaching out to more people on YouTube and Falls Cable and our Web site. Keeping our building in good shape not in anticipation of the “good old days” coming back, but for the day that we return inside as a transformed congregation that has learned to live fully outside and inside our doors.
I spoke with a friend this week who participates in our church via our YouTube service. We agreed that the cross finished something in a profound way. It is a full stop and yet the story is not over because of what came and is coming next.
Today’s Gospel ends with a little message that tells me that Eastertide and our Easter community will continue: “Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in this disciples presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll.”
My faith tells me that Spirit is continuing to breathe around the world and in our towns and in our congregation. The peace that Jesus brings is guiding our hearts and minds and decisions. Who will we be in the future? What will our church look like? If the past and the present have anything to say about the future, we will be a generous and trusting, risking and spirited community of faith, commissioned to bring peace and love and hope into the world.