A Sermon for 23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter
A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31 (NRSV). And remember, according to the gospel of John’s telling of things, this story takes place the same day Mary Magdalene had been to the tomb then gone and told the others she had seen the Lord. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.” 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.” Then 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Brother Roger was an amazing man. As a young adult, he founded the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé. He brought this community into being in France while Europe was again under siege in the Second World War. At the age of twenty-five, Brother Roger started this intentional community on the Christian principles he tenaciously saw in his grandmother during the First World War: “welcoming those in need and seeking reconciliation among Christians” (Brother Roger of Taizé: Essential Writings, “Introduction,” p. 13). You may know something of the Taizé community from songs in our new Glory to God hymnal. Songs like “Wait for the Lord” based on Psalm 27. And “My Soul is at Rest” from Psalm 62. And the round “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” sung during Advent. And “Stay with Me,” sung during Lent by our very own choir. The Good Friday song “Jesus Remember Me, When you come into Your Kingdom.” And the one that may be best known, but perhaps not linked by all to Taizé: “Ubi Caritas. Live in charity and steadfast love. Live in charity; God will dwell with you.” . . . Because worship in the Taizé community is all about peace, the community creates these chant-like, repetitive songs often based on the poetry of the Psalms and other scriptural phrases. A deep commitment to prayers for all the world pervades the community and its worship. Perhaps that’s why young people from around the globe still flock to the community in France on pilgrimage to be a part of things – even if only for a week. When the community gathers for daily worship, scripture and silence weave round the simple songs to transport worshippers to a centered quiet. That calm clearing inside in which the Spirit of God has an opportunity to work. If we are able to imagine entering that sacred space daily, perhaps we would expect spiritual profundity, like the kind of deep wisdom that exudes from Brother Roger. Listen to his words about the presence of Christians in the world today. He writes: “The peace of your heart makes life beautiful for those around you. Being wracked with worry has never been a way of living the gospel. Founding your faith on torment would mean building a house on sand (Mt. 7:26-27). At every moment, do you hear these words of Jesus the Christ: ‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. Let your hearts cease to be troubled and afraid’ (Jn. 14:27)?” Brother Roger continues: “This deep-seated peace provides the lightness needed to set out once again, when failure or discouragements weigh on your shoulders” (Ibid., p. 34).
Peace . . . earlier in the gospel of John – before his resurrection, before his crucifixion, actually right after he washes their feet on that fatal night – Jesus seeks to cultivate peace in his disciples. He knows what’s about to happen. And while they don’t understand much of it, certainly they suspected by that time too. He’s told them already that he will die because of the path he’s following. AND he’s told them to still their troubled hearts. Cease any fear! . . . At that beautiful final banquet, Jesus prays for his followers. He does all he can to comfort them. He wants them to know that “being wracked with worry” is not the way of living the gospel (Ibid.). He expects the peace of their hearts to make life beautiful for those around them. . . .
Just as fear is contagious, peace can be as well. Think about the last time you spent time around someone who was deeply centered. Not fretting all about, but relaxed in themselves. Totally calm and attentive only to you. In their presence, our own blood pressure begins to settle. We can move more deeply into ourselves. Breathing all the way into our toes perhaps, because it’s like the fragrance of their peace enters into us. . . . That’s the gift Christ seeks to give to his followers.
In the gospel reading before us today, three times Jesus speaks the words: “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19). Now, it makes sense that he might start his first appearance among them again with such words. But after their excitement over him, he says it again: “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:21). This time sounding a little bit more like a command than a common greeting connoting God’s blessed shalom. And again he’ll speak the very same words to troubled Thomas when at last Thomas is present among them all and the Risen Christ again returns with the very same message: “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:26). . . . It’s helpful for us to know that three is kinda significant in this part of John’s gospel. You might remember that three times Peter is going to deny Jesus while he’s being held captive. Then, upon the third time he shows himself to his followers, three times the Risen Christ will ask Peter if Peter indeed loves him. And here: three times the Risen Christ commands: “Peace be with you!” . . . Since his first time at the supper telling them he’s leaving his peace with them until now when the Risen Christ comes again among them, their hearts have known everything else but peace. How could they cease any troubled and fear-filled spirits during his arrest, execution, and burial? Jesus told them he was leaving his peace with them and after three days of anything but, he returns pleading: “Peace be with you!”
Think about the powerful witness peace in them would be. I mean, when they finally left that locked upper room, what would others be wondering to encounter in them such amazing, abiding peace? Panic would proclaim to others that nothing extraordinary happened after his death. Fear would confirm the lies others were telling. Angst never would lead others to waste any time listening. Peace in them was the only way. . . . Peace that everything was not as expected. Peace that another Way had been made. Peace that all he said and did was not in vain. . . . Peace would flower to change the world all around them. The peace of their hearts would make life beautiful for them and for rest of the world forevermore.
Let those with ears to hear, heed. Peace is the gift we’ve been given. Peace remaining in us forever. For Christ is risen! God miraculously made a Way. Wouldn’t you agree that we could use a little more peace in this world now? Peace that begins with us. Peace that reverberates from us to those all around. Peace: inner calm, steady trust, quiet strength no matter the headlines that cry for our attention or the chaos that swirls all about. The world needs peace today – just like the world around Jesus’ disciples needed peace in the days following his crucifixion and resurrection. Peace that ripples beyond the boundaries of our souls to bring ease to those around us.
Brothers and sisters of the Risen Christ, blessed are all who have come to believe; for the peace of our hearts now makes life beautiful for all and forever. Sent out abiding in such peace, the whole world will experience our amazing God!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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