It’s been a week since Easter here, the lilies, trumpets, and overcrowding, but in today’s text, it’s critical to note, it was still that first Easter day. We read Matthew’s gospel last Sunday, Mary and Mary get up early and go to the tomb. There is an earthquake, the guards tremble, an angel tells them that he is no longer in the tomb, that they are to Galilee – there they would see him.
In John’s telling, Mary goes to the tomb, sees it empty, and sprints back to wake up the guys. Peter and another disciple race, they look in and saw the linen wrappings, Jesus’ body gone. Then they went home. We don’t have any idea what they did – the whole day, wouldn’t you love to know what they did the whole day. That same evening, John says, they were huddled, afraid. They had seen the fate of their Lord, the beatings, the awful crucifixion, and were worried they would share it. I imagine in some way they knew that the powers of death Jesus had triumphed over wouldn’t go off gently into their goodnight, in the words of the old Dylan Thomas poem, but would rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
I read an article last week that reminded me that while the gospel writers knew that Holy Week would end with resurrection, the people within their stories did not. It got me thinking more about how those disciples might have felt in that locked room. The author writes, “They had been attracted to Jesus, to his person and to his teaching. Some of them…dropped everything in their lives to follow Jesus. On Palm Sunday, they entered Jerusalem convinced his triumph was at hand, and they understood that expected triumph to be a fulfillment of the Scriptures as they understood them. Then things went terribly, terribly wrong.
Jesus was betrayed by one of his apostles.
He was arrested at night by armed guards.
He was denied by his best friend.
He was subject to false accusations.
He was maligned to Pilate whose pricks of conscience were not strong enough to stand up to the crowd clamoring for Barabbas.
He was scourged. Mocked. Crucified.
Whatever his followers had been hoping for…this was not what…deliverance and salvation were supposed to look like.
Today, the author, a Catholic layman named Michael Sean Winters, writes, “I…imagine the bewilderment Jesus’ disciples must have felt. Really, is it not mere conceit that makes us think our response would be more courageous than that of Peter to the questioning of strangers about his relationship with the soon-to-be-condemned Jesus? Do we imagine that we would have stood up against the temper of the crowd and not called for Barabbas to be released? Did not Barabbas have a more realistic approach to overturning the rule of Rome? If any of us had been in Pilate’s shoes, would we have told the crowd that they were wrong and that justice demanded the innocent man be released? The executioners then, like the executioners today, had a job to do, and they did it.”
So it must have come as unimaginable relief when Jesus shows up in that locked room and says, “Peace be with you.” He walks, hands extended. Yes, it is me. I am here with you. But as they are getting even more overwhelmed than they already were he says it again: “Peace be with you.” Peace. “Shalom. That is a traditional Jewish greeting, David Bartlett reminds us, in the first century as now, but also has a deeper meaning of peace, well-being, confidence. The gift of God that drives away fears.” Jesus shows them his hands, his side. “My peace I am giving to you.” In John, the blessing becomes a commission. The risen and glorified Son of God sends his disciples to bear witness to the life they have found in him.
Jesus knew the disciples would need that peace. Peace be with you, he said. Not to just calm down that day, though that would surely help. This peace is not ours, but comes only as a gift from God. This peace is about something God does in our hearts, minds, spirits. This peace doesn’t just lower our blood pressure and heart rate, but peace seeps into every cell. This peace allows us to be as firmly rooted as we can possibly be in God’s great love for us – for each of you – to KNOW it. And to let who God is, God’s Spirit, God’s leading, God’s grace, shown to us most fully in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They, and we, who have betrayed and lied, who have failed, who have not followed as we should, and who have also sometimes done well and got it right, with God’s help.
But this peace is something that we – and my guess is it’s something we all yearn for – but we too often fight it in our lives. We lash out too quickly at others, in person or even more online. We respond. We react. We churn with intensity. We are too ready – all of us – to work out our own fears or insecurities or desires on the people around us. We don’t listen. And this kind of anxiety is churning throughout our world. We see it in our media and political culture and the ways we are engaging it is doing damage within families. We see it in the ways all of our leaders – and those of all parties and no party are guilty – respond to each other. Our world, whether in Syria or North Korea, and so many other pockets, need people who are willing to be receivers of this peace, bearers of it to the people around them. We are too ready to strike out and dismiss and get angry, filled with righteous indignation (and right now in your head you are thinking of someone you know who does that and makes you mad, but also know – and I am guilty, too – we ALL do it). We take the peace Christ offers and shove it aside, we’ve got things to accomplish, lists we have to work on. But Christ is persistent. He offers it twice in those first three verses, to the disciples when he comes back later, to Thomas, filled with doubt. When we are firm in our faith and when we aren’t sure if we buy any of it, Christ reaches toward us. Peace be with you, he says.
And, in all our work, ultimately, and the end of the day, we pray, we must pray, that this peace will enfold us and grip up and settle us into the people Jesus would have each of us be. I ended last week’s sermon telling you about a wonderful musical I had seen, “Come From Away,” newly opened on Broadway, and this beautiful song at the center shaped around St. Francis’ prayer. The words of the prayer are printed in your bulletin again – take those words home with you, pray them when you are alone and with the people you love – it’s also a hymn. Here in a moment Monica is going to come down to the piano, and then we’ll sing it together, as all the best songs should be sung, as a prayer. That we might welcome Christ’s peace among us, and we might be instruments, bearers of that deepest peace, to every corner of the world.
May it be so. May it be so. Amen.
 “Do not go gentle into that good night” Dylan Thomas. Poets.org.
 “Good Friday: Feel as the original disciples, feel the tremors” Michael Sean Winters. National Catholic Reporter.
 David Bartlett, “Preaching After Easter,” in the Easter 2015 Journal for Preachers, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, p 40.
 Lamar Williamson, Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004), 282.