If you’ve been a regular the past few weeks, you’re aware we’ve been focusing this Easter season on some of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. I’ve not been concerned about keeping them in any kind of order; we’ve seen the risen Jesus at the tomb, on a beach, traveling a road, and in all his glory in heaven.
This is the last Sunday of Easter, and I want us to go back to the Gospel of John, looking at one more of those early resurrection appearances. We should hear a message similar to what we’ve heard in previous weeks, but it’s time to also talk seriously about whether we’re going to respond to what we’ve heard.
In the 20th chapter of John, beginning at the 19th verse, Jesus appears to a terrified band of disciples. Mary Magdalene has told them Christ has risen from the dead, but the news has given them little comfort.
Certainly, these disciples were afraid of the Jews and Romans who had crucified Jesus. It’s also likely that they, having failed Jesus in his time of need, feared what the risen Christ might say or do.
The door to the room where they huddle is locked, but a lock is no barrier for a body that has defeated death and is now indestructible, infused with the unrestrained power of the divine. Jesus appears and tells them repeatedly, “Peace be with you.”
All of Jesus’ key disciples are present except Thomas, who refuses to believe in the appearance until “I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.”
A week later Jesus appears to Thomas with the same message: “Peace be with you.” He even invites Thomas to touch the scars. And of course, Thomas believes.
“Peace be with you.” There is so much of importance in this story, from the nature of the resurrection to the need for the Holy Spirit to the importance of faith. But that simple assurance from Christ, “Peace be with you,” is the church’s rallying cry.
Somewhere in our community, there are children who fear each day because they face abuse, hunger or neglect. The true church, acting as Christ’s body on earth today, finds them, rescues them, feeds them and loves them, bringing the peace of Christ to their lives.
Somewhere in our community, there are people suffering a crisis of identity, people who feel they have no value because they lack a job, a family or a relationship. The true church finds them, tells them they are first and foremost children of God, and again, the peace of Christ is present.
Somewhere in our community, there are sinners, hard-core sinners, sinners who believe their evil is so great that nothing can be done to redeem them. They feel they can only fear or smirk at the church.
The true church tells them the work of redemption already is complete; as Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery in John 8, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” And like the cowering disciples, these sinners find that in a faithful relationship with Christ, there is no condemnation, only peace.
Somewhere in our community there are the mentally ill, the substance abusers, the unwed mothers, the prisoners, the sick, the dying. To all of them, the true church finds ways to rely on the Holy Spirit and creatively say, “Peace be with you.”
Do you know what happened to Thomas after he saw and believed? Early church writings indicate he traveled as far as India telling people about the risen Christ. That would mean he traveled farther than any other apostle.
When your doubts are replaced by the peace Christ brings, incredible things happen. We are not to “rest in peace” while in this life. Peace is a gift to be shared with others.