Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31. By Barrie Cran.
I don’t know about you, but I find that when I get something I really want, the feeling of euphoria doesn’t really last very long. A new job, a promotion perhaps, the arrival of a child into the household, a new house; each of these are often longed for and eagerly awaited. And yet very quickly we seem to settle back into the new normal. There is an incessant need to feed and change a very young person, sleep seems like a distant memory. A new house is a seemingly bottomless pit into which are poured time and money. Oh, how quickly the pleasure wears off.
But what about something that was not anticipated? What about something that was not expected, that is unbelievable because it cannot possibly happen, can it? For us, the resurrection is self-evident, we have nearly two millennia of people believing it, talking about it, witnessing to the power of the risen Lord in their lives. We go around telling each other that the Lord is Risen – He is risen indeed Alleluia! But that was not the disciples experience of the first Easter Day.
What they hadn’t seen was Jesus, risen or otherwise. What they had seen was an empty tomb and received a somewhat cryptic message about going to Galilea. In fact the only one who sees Jesus on that morning was Mary. So I suspect that their retreat to the upper room was not just fear of the Jews. It was also uncertainty. It was confusion. It was not having a clue what was going on! I know I don’t react very well in those situations. It’s not just a question of not being fully in control. The disciples were bewildered and confused, a week after a seeming triumph it was all in chaos.
And into that chaos steps Jesus with the simple shalom – peace be with you! Into the turmoil and confusion, Jesus brings peace. I can imagine that the initial shock of his appearance turned into a clamour of voices. It is true! How did it happen! Is it really you! How can it be you? Are you a ghost? Thomas reaction is probably the most honest, seeking something to touch, feel, to hold onto. But he never does touch the wounds. He just needed Jesus to respond to his needs to which he declares Jesus is his Lord and his God a declaration not heard anywhere else from anyone else.
The rest of today’s readings are really about how those who were there in the upper room then declared it to others -specifically Peter. Proper name Simon but his nickname was “rocky” (that’s Tom Wright’s view anyway!). Perhaps not the quickest on the uptake, but once he was “on message”, then there was no stopping him.
But I want to fold back a little to that simple greeting of Jesus to a room full of people in turmoil – peace be with you. I think we could possibly all do with a little of Jesus’ peace in our own turbulent times. Perhaps Coronavirus has reminded us of mortality and vulnerability, albeit in a seemingly cruel and arbitrary way. But we must remember that our own health and longevity are truly miraculous compared to other places and other times. Jesus was crucified at 33 but he would probably have been lucky to live beyond 45-50 as a labouring man. We would be appalled if people were publicly beaten and killed by the military, but it was just another crucifixion to the people of Judea at the time. We are suddenly aware of a feeling of powerlessness that Jesus people would have known all too well. But in that place of powerlessness we are very much like the disciples must have been, we don’t know where this will go or how it will impact us, our health , our financial security, our families, our friends, our nation.
But we mustn’t let that powerless dominate our thinking and prayers. We have much to be thankful for. There so many working on our behalf. There are so many seeking to understand what is happening, and therefore protect us. We have skills and resources to deploy. We have governments who can act on sound advice and information. We see a tragic death toll but, lest we forget, a century ago, Spanish Flu killed an estimated 18 million!
So, into our turmoil, into our doubt, into our fear, into our uncertainty, let’s let the Easter message from Jesus own mouth – Peace be with you – enter into our hearts. And from our hearts may this peace pass into our thoughts, into our words, into our deeds and into our prayers. Let us give thanks to God that we have confidence in Jesus Peace, the resurrection peace of heart and peace of spirit. Let us give thanks that the resurrection does bring eternal hope to us all.
Peace be with you!