Saturday, 10 April 2010

Peace be with you

A sermon for the Sunday after Easter

McDowell Presbyterian Church

Sunday 11th April 2010


John 20 v 19-31

This Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, is often considered a kind of low time in the Christian season.
As we would say in Scotland: “an auld claes and purridge Sunday”
The big build up to Easter has come and gone – the resurrection has been celebrated.
Pastors often go on holiday or at least take some down time – that’s what we’ve been doing this week.
We even call it Low Sunday.
But it’s not the kind of Low we might imagine.
Oh no.
It’s very different.
Because the Low in Low Sunday comes from the latin Laus – meaning praise.
So instead of having a lull in the proceedings, we continue with the hype of Easter.
We continue the celebration.
And that’s as it should be.
Because of Easter nothing can ever be the same again.
And so our gospel reading this morning takes us back to the reality of Easter.
The disciples are cooried in – huddled together in fear.
We can maybe imagine just some of the things going through their minds:
Those random and real thoughts that are summed up in the passage as fear:
What now?
What next?
He’s gone – are we safe?
Or are they just waiting to kill us too as soon as we venture out of here?
And, supposing we do get to leave and go back home, what is there for us?
We abandoned everything there.
Can we just crawl back and pick up the pieces?
We’ll be a laughing stock.
Cowards too.
We couldn’t even follow through with our convictions.
With all those sorts of possibilities going on in their heads and in their hearts, Jesus appeared.
I love that – that he snuck in.
Not with a fanfare.
Not in a lightning bolt.
But he snuck in beside them.

And his words?
Peace be with you.
What happened to:
You failed me.
Well, didn’t you mess up?
or, even,
Thanks a bunch, friends.
Jesus brought none of that.
He snuck in bringing Peace.
What a gift.
If there’s one thing scarier than someone who was dead coming back to life, it has to be someone who was dead coming back to life angry at us.
Jesus knew his disciples were afraid.
And he brought them what they needed most : Peace.
He brought them Peace.
And then if that weren’t enough, he brought them Pentecost.
He got right up close and breathed his Spirit into them.
And the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.
And there was more.
Once he’d brought them Peace and his Spirit, he brought them purpose.
Jesus commissioned these fearful, cowering disciples to go and breathe peace and forgiveness into the world.
For me, that would have been the biggest gift.
I would need to know, not only that I was forgiven – but that I was also redeemed.
Knowing how badly I’d messed up, I would have to know that I was trusted again.
Trusted to go and take the peace and the forgiveness of the risen Christ into the world.
Jesus gave his disciples that gift too – the gift of trust, the gift of confidence.
Gifts to accompany them onto the next stage of their journey,.
And so the journey was not, as they had feared, all over.
Their journey was entering a new stage, a stage in which they were to be accompanied with affirming gifts from the Risen Christ.
Picture, for a moment, the changing atmosphere and charge of emotions in that room during that brief encounter with Jesus.
A huddled, closed group is opened up.
Perhaps, for a moment, their fear is increased, as they anticipate censure and recrimination.
Then the relief and puzzlement as Jesus offers, instead, peace.
And the incredulity as he affirms that they are still his disciples, still required to tell the good news, still empowered to take forgiveness into the world.
I imagine the most unlikely of parties breaking out.
As the fearful, oppressive, heaviness is gradually transformed into joyful anticipation.
The journey isn’t over but is beginning anew.
The transformation of resurrection.
Fearful, sorrowful, despairing disciples sent out with accompanying gifts.
And what of Thomas?
Thomas missed out on all that.
D’you ever wonder where on earth he was?
Had he been sent out to see what was up?
Was he spying the land to see if it was safe for the disciples to come out of hiding?
Was he away getting provisions?
Bread for the journey?
Or did he just need a break from the oppressive atmosphere in that room?
Why wasn’t he there?
If he was upset with his colleagues before he left, he must have been even more upset when he returned to hear their tales of Jesus being among them.
And all of us, who have not quite grown out of our childhoods, all of us who have not completely lost our childish ways can surely identify with Thomas when he stamps his feet and says: I will not believe.
We all know that feeling well.
Just because you say it doesn’t make it true.
Not when I’m feeling stubborn and pretty miffed.
I won’t believe it.
And you can’t make me!
Sound familiar?
Jesus thought Thomas worth coming back for.
He, too, needed to have Peace breathed into him.
He, too, needed to know that he was entrusted to take forgiveness into the world.
He needed to be reassured and convinced.
He needed the accompanying gifts of the Risen Christ.
And what of us this morning – the doubters and the believers?
The fearful and the confident?
The overwhelmed and the blessed?
What accompanying gifts does the risen Jesus come among us to share?
What Spirit of peace and trust does he breathe into us?
What commission does he bestow on us?
Jesus said: Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.
Even better blessings.
You and I, overwhelmed by life, personal life – relationship issues, health worries, increasing cost of living, family concerns 
- or political life, the worrying costs of war, accessibility of health care…
Whatever it is that overwhelms us today, the risen Christ invades our space, quietly, and breathes peace into us, before commissioning us to go and spread forgiveness.
And, as if that weren’t enough, the Risen Christ promises us even better blessings.
William Sloane Coffin, said, "You can't think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If your heart's a stone, you can't have decent thoughts – either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind."
Jesus promises to us even better blessings.
With that peace of Christ breathed into us, our heavy hearts can be transformed into love and the things that overwhelm us can make way for forgiveness.
As the Father sent me, so I send you, says the Risen Christ.
This day, the Sunday after Easter, may you know the Peace of Christ being breathed into you, releasing your fear, transforming you in love and commissioning you to take forgiveness into all the places it is so badly needed in our world.
For the glory of God.


Teri said...

nice work! peace!

Dot said...

Peace be with you as you deliver this wonderful message and then enjoy the Peace of being with the ones who love you most!