St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 23rd April - Easter 2

Theme: Peace be with you

Readings: Acts 2.14a, 22-32

                  1 Peter 1:3-9
                  John 20:19-31

 “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

It is the still the day of the resurrection, when we encounter the disciples in the gospel reading, huddled in a house behind locked doors. On that evening, the last thing that the disciples were feeling was peaceful. Despite Mary Magdalene’s announcement about her encounter with Jesus at the tomb, they were still feeling hopeless, confused and above all fearful. The disciples cannot make sense of it all. It is not a situation that we would associate with peace, nor the presence of someone whose body is marked by the signs of torture and death. But it seems clear that John wants us to see the two visits of Jesus to his disciples in the upper room as occasions of peace.

The risen Christ came to his disciples in the midst of their turmoil and fear.  He came in the midst of their doubt and their sense of having failed both him and their own selves and said to them: "Peace be with you."  And when he said this he showed them his wounds, the holes in his hands and in his side, as if to say

   See these wounds - feel them and know that it is all right to hurt.

   I was hurt as all people are hurt

   but that pain and that hurt no longer has dominion over me

   I live - as I said I would. 

   I told you that I would suffer - and that you, if you followed me,

   would also suffer - but I told you too that after passing

   through various trials and tests, that pain and even death

   itself would lose its power - its power over me and its

   power over those who believe in me.

The three times that Jesus offers his peace to his disciples in that one passage is in close connection with the wounds of crucifixion.  The enemies of peace had already done their worst to him.  They had made cowards and liars of his followers and had mocked his own words and actions.  They had humiliated him in the city streets. They had violated his flesh and robbed him of his life.  But their campaign against him failed. On the evening of the first day of the week he came to his disciples and showed them that he lived despite the worst that could happen.

The peace that Jesus offers is the confidence his followers are able to take from his resurrected appearance.  His return on that first day of the week signalled the fact that his life and promises will endure.  When Jesus said "peace be with you" it was more than a greeting to be followed by another good-bye.  It was the declaration of a persistent fact.  Because Jesus lives nothing can separate his followers from him and from life in him. The disciples realized this fact and in realizing it received the peace that Jesus offered - the peace that only Jesus could offer - for without him they would have been left to continue alone in the darkness and fear of their locked room. The confidence that the disciples received is demonstrated in their response to his appearance.  Peace showed itself in their rejoicing - and in Thomas' subsequent confession of faith - "My Lord, and my God."

The external circumstances of the disciples didn’t change when they received and accepted the peace that Christ offered. They believed in him - they had confidence in him - they knew that nothing could separate them from God's love after he appeared to them but they still had to face the same situation they faced before he broke into the locked room. They still had to face authorities. They still had to risk going out on the streets occupied by the crowds who had mocked and crucified Jesus. They still had to face trials and tribulations.

Peace also showed itself later when the disciples left that room and went into the world to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. In the reading from Acts, we encounter Peter, with the eleven, on the day of Pentecost, and they are greatly changed. They are emboldened to preach the gospel, sustained by the inner security of the presence of the risen Christ.

Many of us have faced – and possibly are still living through – dashed hopes: the death of a friend or relative, a loss of freedom through illness or disability, the longing for a career or position that is beyond reach, a failed vote to stay in the European Union.
How does this story speak to those situations? After all, the disciples were wrong – Jesus was alive; their hopes only seemed destroyed. For many people that’s just not the case. Our hopes really are gone and we may be overwhelmed with grief. There is nothing wrong with that. We need to grieve over lost dreams and crushed hopes, and there are strong biblical precedents for lamenting and taking time to process our emotions.

Though the death and resurrection of Jesus was real and true, it was not the full picture. His resurrection wasn’t the dramatic comeback and overthrow of the Romans that the disciples were expecting. The road ahead would be hard – the rest of the New Testament is unequivocal about that; suffering and pain are part of the picture –

Christ could have miraculously made his wounds disappear after he was raised from the tomb, but he chose not to. He bore the marks of his wounds into the presence of his disciples.  In the same way, Christ does not ask us to banish our wounds when we come into his presence, not even at Easter when we are supposed to be full of joy. But for those who are in Christ, these earthly trials are not the end. The comfort and hope of Easter is that this world is not all there is. As we ponder Jesus’ resurrection, we can take comfort in the truth that hopes which seem defeated are in reality just deferred.

False ideas about peace and joy abound in our society, usually to do with having some material product to put our minds at rest – the lasted model of a car that you can pack everything into, the Dyson dust buster for when the kids or pets make a mess, the perfect sofa to recline on or the smart phone that will do anything you can possibly imagine. These false notions can distort our entire picture of what life is supposed to be about and of who Christ is and of who we are.

The scene in today’s gospel reminds us about aspects of peace that we do normally think of - peace in the midst of turmoil, peace in the midst of fear, peace in the midst of doubt.

Peace be with you - are the words of Jesus to us.

Peace be with you and blessed are you when you have not seen, as

the disciples saw, and yet have come to believe.

Blessed are you - not because life will be plain sailing for you,

Blessed are you - not because you will never have to suffer.

But blessed are you because you have linked yourself to a power

   greater than yours;

to a power that wants to sustain you and will sustain you,

to the power that raised Jesus from the dead,

to the power that will bring you to the inheritance

   that Jesus has won for us, through faith.

Let us pray…

You Lord are in this place

Your presence fills it, your presence is peace

You Lord are in my life

Your presence fills it, your presence is peace

You Lord are in the storm

Your presence fills it, your presence is peace.  David Adam (adapted)

Rev Lisa Cornwell