The doors were locked, for fear. Even though Mary Magdalene had told the disciples that she had seen the risen Jesus, they are still locked away in fear. It isn’t really all that hard for us to imagine that, is it? Last Sunday we experienced glorious worship as we gathered among the lilies with the light of Christ burning brightly, singing together to proclaim Christ’s resurrection.
And then we returned to our everyday life and watched or experienced things that brought us to a place of fear. The death of a loved one – a concerning diagnosis – a frightening job loss – North Korea, Syria, and all the other places in our world that are scary.
John’s story of the events of Easter evening is read every year on this second Sunday of Easter. Every year we read with particular interest the statement about the disciples being locked away for fear. The preacher seeks to put this reading in a current context by identifying what has us locked away for fear – and it is never very difficult, for there is always something about which we are afraid. I’m not sure that there has been a time since John penned these words that they were not current and relevant. Fear is all around us – it has always been that way and I doubt that it will change anytime soon. We continue to yearn for peace.
But I’m not sure we are defining peace in the same way that Jesus did on that first Easter evening. I wonder if what we long for is not the peace of God but rather is security – the assurance that life will go on the way it always has – that we will have all we need – that nothing will threaten the safety and order of our lives – that we will live securely rooted in place with ample resources and relationships. There is nothing wrong with wanting this for ourselves and our loved ones. Physical security is not bad – but it might not be what we should hold as our first priority. For security sometimes involves upholding a destructive status quo. Security may involve compromise with ideas that threaten the vulnerable. Security may not always be peaceful.
In his paper on “The Church and the Peoples of the World”, delivered in Denmark in 1934, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer dealt with the Peace Question with these words: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security…. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God.”
For Bonhoeffer, security would have been staying the US in 1939. It would have meant going along with the Nazi takeover of the church. Instead of security, Bonhoeffer chose peace, returning to Germany to continue to speak the Gospel and to work for the overthrow of the government that was abusing the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Peace required Bonhoeffer’s life. Peace demanded that Bonhoeffer give himself altogether to the law of God, in faith and obedience laying his destiny in the hand of Almighty God.
This is the peace which Jesus bestowed on his disciples on that first Easter evening. It is to this peace that God has called each of us to give ourselves. This peace does surpass our human understanding. It is so countercultural that we can never truly comprehend what it means to live in this peace. But as John continues his story of that first Easter, he tells us more about this life of peace. John tells us that Jesus gave his disciples three gifts to help them on their journey. The first gift was himself—he showed them his wounds, marks that identified him as the one who hung on the cross and marks that proclaim the presence of the divine in the midst of suffering. Then he gave them his Holy Spirit – just as God breathed life into the first human body, so now Jesus breathes life into the new body, the church. This new life, the new breath, enabled the disciples to accept Jesus’ gift of mission and purpose – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus sent the disciples out to continue the work he had begun on earth – and he sent them out with power and authority to accomplish the task he had given them.
Like those first disciples, we have received these gifts from our risen Lord. We have seen the marks of the crucified Christ – we have received his broken body and shed blood. We have had the Holy Spirit poured over us in the waters of our baptism and have heard his command to let our good works glorify God. We have heard the call to mission – to go and tell the good news of Easter to all the world. In all that, we, too, have received the peace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is in that peace that we face the challenges of our world – a world of growing tension and division as people see those who differ from themselves as threats, rather than brothers and sisters – a world experiencing an increasing separation based on economic status, where the poor increase in number while the rich increase in wealth – a world whose very existence is threatened by the greedy misuse of resources regardless of the effect on the environment.
The gifts Jesus has bestowed on us – peace, ability, mission, forgiveness and reconciliation – cost Jesus greatly. On the cross, Jesus gave his life for the world, that all may know the love of God. As we stand again in awe and gratitude for that gift, let us go from this place newly empowered to be Christ’s body in and for the world, working that all may know God’s shalom – God’s wholeness – God’s peace.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.