St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Peace be with you

Peace be with you

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, Second Sunday of East­er, 8th. April 2018

On a cold day in Decem­ber last year a woman named Leah Ross came home to her house in Win­nipeg to dis­cov­er that it had been ran­sacked. She called the police, her neigh­bour and her church across the street. Then a young woman appeared at the door: it was the burg­lar, a 17year old girl with a drug addic­tion, who had come back look­ing for her keys and phone. Leah invited her into her kit­chen gave her food and a warm drink and when the police finally showed up she refused to press charges. The girl expec­ted anger and con­dem­na­tion but what she got was for­give­ness and love.

The story has some par­al­lels with today’s Gos­pel read­ing. John tells us that on the even­ing of that day- the day of resur­rec­tion, Jesus appeared to his dis­ciples who have gathered behind locked doors to dis­cuss the day’s events and the extraordin­ary news car­ried by Mary Mag­dalene that she had seen the Lord. We can ima­gine their con­sterna­tion when Jesus first appeared. How do you face the man you have effect­ively denied? Peter had pub­licly denied Jesus three times declar­ing that he did not know him. Didn’t know him? Peter had been Jesus’ close com­pan­ion for three years as they trav­elled around Galilee and then jour­neyed togeth­er to Jer­u­s­alem. He had shared with Jesus the won­der and excite­ment of that moun­tain top exper­i­ence where Jesus had appeared in the com­pany of Moses and Eli­jah and his face and gar­ments had shone with a bright light. Yet, des­pite all he had seen and heard over those years, in the hour of crisis, when it really mattered, Peter had said three times, ‘I nev­er knew him’. But Peter was not the only one- Mark tells us that after Jesus was arres­ted in the garden all the male dis­ciples fled and only one of them, John, had the cour­age to actu­ally be with Jesus at his cru­ci­fix­ion. What did they expect Jesus to say when he saw them for the first time after his resur­rec­tion? They were expect­ing con­dem­na­tion.

Instead of con­dem­na­tion Jesus spoke words of accept­ance and for­give­ness: “Peace be with you.” It is true that this was a com­mon form of greet­ing in the Middle East but in this con­text it had a spe­cial sig­ni­fic­ance. It meant much more than ‘may you be spared trouble or strife’ it meant ‘May God give you every good thing’. It was a sign that des­pite their cow­ardice, des­pite their fail­ure to remain loy­al to Jesus they were not rejec­ted or con­demned. Instead, they were rein­stated as his fol­low­ers and friends. God’s desire for his people his peace. He car­ried our sins and suffered death so that we might enjoy peace with God and peace with each oth­er.

Hav­ing greeted them with words of peace Jesus then showed his dis­ciples his hands and his side. He wanted them to know bey­ond doubt that the Jesus who had been cru­ci­fied and bur­ied was the Jesus who stood before them. But the scars were more than that. Wil­li­am Temple wrote that “the wounds of Christ are his cre­den­tials to the suf­fer­ing race of human­ity.” Only Chris­tian­ity offers us a God who car­ries scars and is sym­path­et­ic to the wounds we also carry. No won­der the dis­ciples rejoiced when they had the wit­ness of their ears and eyes that Jesus was really alive. But then John describes Jesus doing some­thing even more extraordin­ary. He gives them anoth­er greet­ing of peace and then declares that “as the Fath­er has sent me so I send you.” He com­mis­sions them to go out and con­tin­ue the work that he has begun. Extraordin­ary. Who would have thought that this little group of rather fear­ful, tim­id fol­low­ers of Jesus would ever amount to any­thing. Jesus did. He had no oth­er plan, no oth­er strategy except to send out his fol­low­ers to preach the good news of God’s King­dom. But for­tu­nately the plan included the Holy Spir­it. They were not going out in their own strength or with their own piti­ful resources. John tells us that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spir­it.” We are trans­por­ted back to the Book of Gen­es­is where we remem­ber that God’s spir­it or breath moved over the face of the waters bring­ing light to a world in chaos. We are also reminded of God’s breath being breathed into Adam’s nos­trils so he became a liv­ing being. Into these rather bewildered dis­ciples is breathed God’s life giv­ing spir­it. In John’s Gos­pel, there is an irres­ist­ible move­ment from the death and resur­rec­tion of Jesus to his ascen­sion and the giv­ing of the Holy Spir­it. We are more used to the timetable giv­en by Luke in his Gos­pel and the Book of Acts but John chooses to com­press everything togeth­er. In the upper room the dis­ciples receive the gift of the Spir­it and are com­mis­sioned for their min­istry.

Not only do Jesus’ fol­low­ers receive the gift of the Spir­it but they are giv­en author­ity to for­give sins. Not sur­pris­ingly these verses have been the source of much con­tro­versy. What did Jesus actu­ally mean? Surely only God can for­give sins? The con­text of the occa­sion may help us to under­stand these words. The dis­ciples expec­ted con­dem­na­tion from Jesus but found they were for­giv­en. For­give­ness is at the heart of the Gos­pel mes­sage. But Jesus taught that for­give­ness car­ries an oblig­a­tion: if we are for­giv­en then we must for­give as well. To receive Christ’s for­give­ness and then to refuse to for­give oth­ers is to fail to under­stand the Gos­pel. Yes, for­give­ness is hard and only God’s grace makes it pos­sible but it is at the core of what Jesus taught: “for­give us our sins, we pray, as we for­give those who sin against us.” We need to pray the pray­er often for for­give­ness is the work of a life­time.

The second epis­ode in our Gos­pel today centres around Thomas. Thomas has car­ried the name ‘doubt­ing Thomas’ through the cen­tur­ies, a little unfairly in my view. He gets a few men­tions in John’s Gos­pel. In chapter 14 when Jesus tells his dis­ciples, ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’, Thomas rather bluntly says, ‘No we don’t- how can we pos­sibly know the way?’ Then in Chapter 11 when Jesus announces that he has decided to go to Jer­u­s­alem, some of the dis­ciples protest and tell Jesus it is too dan­ger­ous to go there but Thomas says, ‘Let us also go and die with him.’ Thomas is a real­ist who likes things to be spelt out clearly- he is not there when Jesus appears to his dis­ciples in the locked room on East­er even­ing. Per­haps he wanted time by him­self to think through things – we all have dif­fer­ent ways of cop­ing with grief and Thomas may have felt the need to be alone. Later when he heard what the oth­er dis­ciples had to say he reacted with his char­ac­ter­ist­ic real­ism- ‘unless I see the mark of the nails and feel them for myself I will not believe.’ Yes, he found it hard to believe and he was hon­est about it but all the dis­ciples had trouble believ­ing. Thomas was merely ask­ing to see and feel what the oth­ers had seen. A week later, Thomas gets his chance: Jesus appears again and this time, Jesus know­ing Thomas’ heart invites him to make the test he had deman­ded. Thomas needs no fur­ther proof but instead exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” It was a per­son­al and intim­ate response.

In the end faith is not about a belief in cer­tain pro­pos­i­tions, it’s about a rela­tion­ship. It’s learn­ing to trust the ris­en Christ and to be able to call him, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Thomas is the first per­son in John’s Gos­pel to look at Jesus and to call him God. But this is where the author of the fourth Gos­pel has been tak­ing us from the very begin­ning. Remem­ber how John star­ted, “In the begin­ning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And then at the end of his pro­logue, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known.” When we read to the end of John’s Gos­pel just in case we have missed the point, John spells it out for us one more time, This book is writ­ten he tells us “so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Mes­si­ah, the Son of God and that through believ­ing you may have life through his name.” Let me fin­ish with some words from Jur­gen Molt­mann, the Ger­man theo­lo­gian who came to faith largely through the kind­ness shown to him as a pris­on­er of war in Bri­tain. He said “Resur­rec­tion is not a con­sol­ing opi­um, sooth­ing us with the prom­ise of a bet­ter world in the here­after. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. Hope doesn’t just point to anoth­er world. It is focussed on the redemp­tion of this one.” Amen

Philip Brad­ford