“Peace be with you."

Homily April 24, 2022 - The Second Sunday of Easter
St. Anne’s-Bethany, Arlington, MA (Deacon Formation)

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us always to have the courage to be at Peace in you. Amen.

And Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.”

Three times Jesus said this to those terrified disciples locked together in one room. Three times Jesus was telling his most beloved followers to settle. To be calm. To be at peace. But not in a way you might tell a room full of preschoolers to settle down. This was more than just sitting still and turning on your ‘listening ears.’ Jesus was calling for his disciples to take on the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians) The peace that “guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And, as we are reminded in the Maundy Thursday liturgy, Peace is Jesus’s last gift to his disciples, his own peace he left with them; peace which the world cannot give, Jesus gives to his beloved followers. (John) The peace that comes from deep abiding faith, belief, and trust.

Some scientists have said that we humans basically have between 6 and 8 emotions that we can experience. More recent research posits that there are actually 27 emotions we can experience. Can you imagine what the atmosphere was like in that locked room before Jesus appeared the first time?! The room must’ve been steeped in emotion. Buzzing and spinning with all sorts of human feeling from terror, grief, maybe some shame, anger, confusion, anxiety, the list is endless. And four simple words are employed to begin to reign in the chaos: peace be with you. Then Jesus nipped any doubt in the bud by showing his wounds thereby moving things along so he could get on to the next step of getting the disciples out, doing the work they were called to do.

And yet, of course, the heightened emotions still remained. So, Jesus addressed what might’ve been the loudest emotion in the room aside from fear: anger. Anger toward Judas, toward Peter, toward Pilate, toward the entire political system, and so on. And what is Jesus’s advice about what to do with this anger? “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Basically, let it go. It will tear you up inside to retain…to hold onto…the sins of others. Forgiveness is the way forward.

In order to do this, Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assuming each of the disciples was baptized, in a way, this moment was a sort of reaffirmation of their baptismal vows…just not with the hearty asperging like some of us received in this very space last week. 

And so now we move on to Thomas. Poor Thomas. Poor, poor Thomas. I didn’t want to preach about Thomas but in my prayer and writing I just kept coming back to him. I say “poor Thomas” because I actually think that he’s the braver disciple in the story but, as we know, he usually gets a bad rap as ‘doubting Thomas.’ He’s the one who tells it like it is. He’s blunt. Doesn’t hold back. He won’t believe Jesus is alive unless he sees the proof for himself. I find Thomas’s type of stubbornness to be really… relatable. (LOL) I can’t help but also think that Thomas desperately wanted Jesus to still be alive but was too afraid to even hope for such a thing…it was too painful to consider. But I realize that’s reading an awful lot into the text. 

So here we encounter Thomas finally reunited with the rest of the crew. The disciples, still hunkered down in fear, need to hear those four words yet again. “Peace be with you.” And, just as Jesus had done with the other disciples, Jesus showed Thomas his wounds and further, in what is purely an act of Jesus’s love for Thomas, invites him to touch. And Thomas’s immediate and unwavering response, "My Lord and my God!" is the whole point of the thing.

Thomas, the faithful, who was ready and eager to die with Jesus in making the trip to raise Lazarus. Thomas, the student, hungry to understand, who in all openness and vulnerability, asks Jesus at that Last Supper, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” So that we can learn from Jesus that he is, “the Way, and the Truth and the Life.” And finally, Thomas, the pained and grieving, whose mind and heart can only believe that Jesus is alive when he can know him by his wounds.

In meditating on Christ’s love for us through death on the cross, The Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon, celebrated 19th-century British orator (Baptist), reminds us that, “There is no restorative for a sinking faith like a sight of the wounded Saviour. Look, soul, and live by the proofs of his death! Come and put thy finger, by faith, into the print of the nails, and these wounds shall heal thee of unbelief. The wounds of our Lord are the tokens of his love.” 

We can only be at peace with our own anxieties, emotions, angers, fears, and so on when we fully believe—with or without seeing—in God. Faithfully trust and fully believe in the power of the resurrection and what it means for us to be, to live as, a resurrection people. Jesus isn’t telling the disciples to block out what has happened, to bury their feelings, seek revenge, or to distract themselves with quick fixes or easy outs. Jesus is telling them to be at peace. {slower} Only when we’re at peace, a peace which the world cannot give, thinking clearly with uncluttered emotions, can we truly get out from behind our locked doors and go out into the world to do the work that we as Christians are called to do.  

Let us pray.

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts. Amen. (Prayer for Peace. A New Zealand Prayer Book p. 142)

© Margaret Lias 2022