Sunday, April 19, 2020 Peace Be with You
Another week closed away.
For some people this time of social distancing has not been a big change in daily routine – they are still leaving home and working in an essential job, but even there, they are closed in or closed off from others by social distancing. For others, life had already shut them in because of health and other reasons.
For some this is a time of disruption of schedules and life, closed away at home juggling family life and work for some, and for others, juggling family life and additional worries from loss of work. Some are closed away at home as usual in retirement but now with more social limitations. Some are closed away and trying to find a place to study or connect with friends via social media. Some are closed away in isolation because they are ill, some in a separate room in their homes, others in isolation wards in the hospital, others in unfamiliar rooms on a ship or in a hotel, others in massive temporary field hospitals.
Today’s Gospel lesson is about people who were closed away and riding a roller coaster of emotions. It was Sunday evening and it had only been since Thursday evening that the disciples had sat down to the meal with Jesus. They’d eaten and listened to Jesus offer new teachings. Some had been so full they had fallen asleep when Jesus asked them to pray with him. Soldiers had come and arrested Jesus because of the actions of one of their own. Within hours, there was a trial of sorts, and their master and teacher was condemned to death by crucifixion. Some witnessed it while others fled out of fear for their own lives. They were terrorized and fearful, shocked and confused, grief-stricken and desolate, and humiliated by their lack of fidelity. Then Sunday morning had come with word from Mary Magdalene and Peter and another disciple that they had seen Jesus and that the others would too. Many gathered in a house with doors locked for fear of the Jews, their own people. Fear, doubt, and tentative hope and joy in the latest news.
Can you imagine the hushed conversations that went on that Sunday? Was their story true, or had Mary and Peter overindulged while drowning their sorrows? Do you think he’s alive? Didn’t we see him die? Did you ever understand what he was talking about? What was he trying to tell us? What would he want us to do now? What should we do next? Split up? Stick together? Meet up in a village far away? We can’t stay in this house for long, shouldn’t we make a plan? Shouldn’t we leave a door unlocked in case Jesus comes back like they said? Is someone keeping watch?
Into this locked up house of confusion and fear, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” He shows his wounds and again says, “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and tells them to forgive. He said, forgive others and they are forgiven, do not forgive and the sin is retained.
Forgiving does more than absolve someone from wrong, it has other side effects. The one doing the forgiving finds release from the power that the unforgiven “sin” had over them. It can be freeing and open the door to joy. This is the forgiving that Jesus expressed when he entered the locked house and spoke “Peace be with you.” These words of peace express harmony and end of strife as well as safety, health and welfare towards others. They are words that can bring God’s healing to a relationship even when we are unable to. They are Resurrection words.
The Resurrection story is one that is hard for us to comprehend. Mark S. Burrows wrote this week’s devotions in Disciplines: Book of Daily Devotions 2020 published by the Upper Room. This book was published long before there was any hint of a pandemic crisis and social distancing, so the timing of what he wrote and today’s events seems more than coincidence.
“If the Resurrection is to mean anything in our lives, it must be this: The call to live beyond the narrow logic of fear, selfishness, and hatred, to live into the “ways of life” that constitute the generous truths of God among us.” p136
“[The Resurrection news] is the truth that has the power to set me free from fear and anxiety.” p 134
“The Easter story presents us with the same invitation it did for those first disciples: it invites us to believe the truth of the Resurrection, to trust with our heart what our mind cannot grasp.” p. 135
If we are feeling like the disciples on that Sunday, locked away in a house of anxiety and confusion, may we find freedom in the Resurrection’s good news of the presence of Jesus Christ with us. May we hear his words of “Peace be with you” and be restored to life. May we remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not life or death, or sickness or health, and not our closed or locked doors.
Let today’s lectionary words of Resurrection life of joy and gladness and fullness speak to you:
“You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Acts 2: 28
“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
“These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20: 31
If we, like Thomas, have a hard time comprehending the truth of the Resurrection, may we “trust in our heart what we cannot grasp in our mind.” May this always be our prayer of faith because we will never fully understand or know this truth in this life.
Evie Doyon, for April 19, 2020