Apr 8, 2018

“Peace Be With You” - John 20:19-31

“Peace Be With You” - John 20:19-31

            During her reign, Queen Victoria learned that the wife of a common laborer had lost her baby.  Having also experienced deep sorrow, the queen felt moved to express her sympathy.  So, one day she called on the bereaved woman and spent some time with her.  After she had departed, the neighbors asked her what the queen had said.

            "Not a word," replied the grieving mother.  “She didn’t need to.  She simply put her hands on mine, and silently we wept together."

            That’s exactly what our Gospel reading for today is about.  It’s about some people who have also just lost someone close to them.  Someone very dear to them.  Someone quite precious to them.  It’s their beloved teacher.  The one they have followed.  The one on whom they’ve put all of their hopes and dreams.  But now, he is gone, gone, gone.

            And since his death, they’ve been grieving nonstop.  Crying oceans of tears.  Without him, it all seems so hopeless.  All seems lost.  They even wonder if they’ll ever be able to get on with their lives.  Just getting out of bed seems to take great effort.  They’re at a loss as to how to go on.  And to top it off, they are filled with fear.  They’re hiding like cowards even though Mary Magdalene has already clearly told them that she has seen Jesus and has even talked with him.

Of course, these people are none other than the disciples.  And the teacher is none other than Jesus.  The very one we call Savior and Lord.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            John lets us know that it is evening of the first day of the week.  And it’s the third day since Jesus was cruelly taken from them.  The doors of the house where the disciples are gathered are closed.

            Not too long ago, they’d shared a meal with Jesus in this very room.  It wasn’t a five-course meal.  Nothing fancy.  Now, they remember how he had broken the bread and shared it with them.  They remember how he had blessed and shared the cup with them.  Now, they cherish the memory of that special time of table fellowship.

            But Jesus had also shared some troubling news with them that evening.  News they had a great difficulty accepting at the time.  He’d said one of them would betray him.  One would deny him.  All of them would turn tail and run.  And he would be left on his own to die on a cruel Roman cross.  But after three days he’d rise again.  Now, huddled together in fear, they realize he’d tried to prepare them.

            When the disciples think back on this last meal with Jesus, it brings tears to their eyes.  Eyes that are already red from crying for him.  Grieving for him.  All of them love him.  All of them now miss him dearly.

            But these disciples have not just been mourning.  They’re also hiding.  Living behind closed doors.  Living in fear.  Sleeping with one eye open.  And waiting.  But they’re not sure what they’re waiting for.  

            They know that Jesus is dead, but they seem to have forgotten the part about him coming back.  So, they’re afraid it’s just a matter of time until they’re arrested.  They wait in terror.  Quake at every step on the stairs.  Listen fearfully for every sound at the door.  They just know that the next knock at that door could be the authorities.  Coming for them.

            But as those disciples sit there trembling with fear, something quite extraordinary happens.  Out of nowhere Jesus appears.  He comes right up to them and stands among them.  And he can sense they are afraid.  He can sense they are stressed out.  He can sense they are nearly overcome with grief.  He can see they’re on the verge of having nervous breakdowns.  And Jesus’ heart goes out to them.  That’s because he still loves them, and he still wants what’s best for them.  So he reaches out to comfort them.  He says these precious words to them, “Peace be with you.”  That’s right.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m okay.  It’s okay.  You’ll be okay.

            At first the disciples don’t do a thing.  They just sit there in silence.  Filled with shock.  Rubbing their eyes.  Pinching themselves.  Perhaps their minds are playing tricks on them.  Perhaps they’re imagining this.

            Jesus knows that they need something more.  So he gives them what they need.  He shows them his hands and his side.  He lets them know that the risen one standing before them is the very same one who was crucified two days earlier.  And that’s all it takes.  The disciples snap out of it.  Now, they see.  Rejoicing breaks out all over the place.  Jesus has not left them on their own.  He still lives.  Death did not win out.

            Then Jesus offers the gift of peace again.  They get a second helping.  And he tells them that their work is not finished.  He gives them a big reason to carry on.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Yes, they are invited to finish God’s great work of love that he has started.  And knowing they can’t possibly do this by themselves, the Gospel writer gives us his version of Pentecost.  John tells us Jesus breathes on his disciples.  And with this breath comes the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of Jesus to give them guidance and energy. 

          It’s only then that John lets us know that one of the disciples is not there.  That’s right, Thomas is missing.  We aren’t told where he is.  He is not blamed for his absence.  But it’s obvious that Thomas has missed out on some wonderful blessings.  He has missed out on the support of the group.  And he has missed out on Jesus and his precious gifts.

            But he ends up not missing out after all.  That’s because a week later the disciples are still in that very same room.  They seem to be stuck.  But this time, Thomas is there with them.  And somehow, Jesus appears in their midst again.  And he shows the same patience and love with Thomas that he did with the other disciples.  He generously gives Thomas exactly what he needs.  It seems to be enough because Thomas bursts out with the most powerful confession of faith found anywhere in all of the Gospels.  He strongly proclaims,  “My Lord and my God!”

            Oh, but there are other people who are not present on either one of those nights.  There are other people who are not there to receive the precious gifts Jesus offers.  Do you know who they are?  Can you guess?  It’s you and me.  That’s right, we aren’t there on either one of those nights.  We aren’t given the chance to see him with our own eyes.

But do not be discouraged.  Fear not.  Even if we weren’t there, we’re by no means left out.  John tells us those precious gifts are still available for us as well.  Even though we weren’t there.  As a matter of fact, he writes that Jesus says we are the most blessed of all.  Yes, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

            Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a ship caught in a storm just off a rocky coast.  The great winds threatened to drive the ship and its passengers to destruction.  In the midst of the terror, one daring man, contrary to orders, made a dangerous trip to the pilot house on the top deck to see for himself what was going on.  Like Thomas, he had to see with his own eyes.  There, he found the pilot at his post unwaveringly gripping the wheel.  Inch by inch he was turning the ship out to the safety of the sea.  The pilot saw the man watching and smiled.

            That’s all he needed.  The daring passenger went back below and gave out a note of cheer to his fellow passengers.  "I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled.  I believe all is well."

          That’s exactly what the Gospel writer is telling us today.  No matter what storms we face in this life, the pilot still smiles.  It seems almost too good to be true, but more than two thousand years later this Jesus still faithfully guides the ship.  And like with the disciples cowering behind closed doors, he still comes to us.  He still accompanies us on the voyage.

Nothing stops him.  Nothing keeps him out.  Not even locked doors.  Yes, like the disciples in that room, Jesus still comes to us at Hickman Mills Community Christian Church.  Still stands in our midst.  Still reaches out to us in patience and in love.  And still smiles at us. 

            Yes, he still speaks precious words of comfort and hope.  To those who are grieving.  To those who are experiencing heartache or loss.  To those who are living in fear or uncertainty.  To those caught up in life’s storms.  To those who feel as if they are left all on their own.  He still says this to each one of us, “Peace be with you.”  All will be well. 

           And he still has a purpose for our lives.  Yes, he still invites us to join with him in his mission.  A mission to show the world God’s peace and God’s love.  And we aren’t left on our own to accomplish this great task.  Thank goodness for that.  As he did those nights in the upper room, Jesus still breathes his Spirit into each one of us.  The Spirit of love.  The Spirit of peace.  The Spirit of acceptance.  The Spirit of healing.  The Spirit of forgiveness.  The Spirit of hope.  The Spirit of joy.  Plus, Jesus gives us something else as well.  His very self.  He promises we have the Spirit of the Risen Christ with us every second of every day. 

            Yes, he is risen.  Yes, he is risen indeed.  Yes, he is till here in this very room.  And yes, in a few moments he will join us here at his table.  Believe it or not, like his disciples long ago, our empty hands will again touch and taste for ourselves.  What more do we really need?  Truly, what more do we really need?  Thanks be to God.  Amen.