Peace and Presence
Let’s try to imagine... for just a moment... that we’re not here - in this sanctuary, surrounded by stained glass windows - and beautiful light. Of course... that’s not a stretch for many... because every time I start preaching some of you imagine you’re somewhere else! But instead of imagining you’re on the lake... or at the beach... or at home sitting in your Lazy Boy - try to imagine you’re in the room with Jesus’ disciples, after the Cross, after the crucifixion of Jesus. Try to put yourself in their shoes...
Try to imagine... it’s the 3rd day after the worst experience, most traumatic experience, of your life. Your hopes have been dashed... all the doors are closed and locked... the shutters drawn and sealed tight over the windows. The light’s dim... the mood is dark...
You had been there... watching at a distance - as soldiers hammered nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. And after watching with our own eyes how they treated Jesus - you can only imagine what they’ll do to you! They’ll surely arrest you... maybe torture you... or kill you... just like they’d killed Jesus.
Of course, the “hits” just keep coming... because not only is Jesus - the promised Messiah - gone, but now it looks like someone may have stolen his body... adding insult to injury.
The shock of it all... the grief... the disbelief is palatable. It all hangs thick in the air.
Poor Mary was the first one to learn Jesus’ body was not in tomb... in fact... she keeps babbling on about seeing Jesus alive, and thinking he was a gardener. But none of us really believed her. Peter and John made their way to the tomb, too... and found it just as the women had said... no Jesus.
So here we are, Jesus “so-called” disciples… his hand chosen followers... hiding out in some closed up room... cowering in fear, scared to death over what the “powers that be” might do to us. When all of a sudden we find that we are not alone. Jesus himself appears before us. He standing right there, right beside us. We all think we’re just seeing things, hallucinating, our eyes are playing tricks on us. Our emotions, our grief has gotten the best of us.
But as we look into one another’s faces, we began to notice that it’s not just me… it’s not just you… Because James and John, and Andrew and Philip, and Matthew and Peter… In fact - everyone’s seeing the same thing! So we start to rationalize... we start to wonder… could this be really be Jesus?
Of course, there’s one thing we’re all certain of... and that is... if we’d been afraid before… we were terrified now. It was as if we had seen a ghost! But Jesus sensed our fear... so the very first thing he said to us was, “peace.” “Peace be with you.”
Not “hello”, not “why are you so afraid…” Not “why didn’t you trust me, or why didn’t you believe me?” Not even, “why are you hiding?” But peace.
Then he stretched out his hands showing us his wounds. And we realized... this was no ghost, no spirit, Jesus is alive... blessing us with his peace.
Then he told us to get out of that room where we were hiding and get back out into the world. For just as the Father had sent him, now he was sending us!
But as fate would have it, Thomas was not in the room - not when Jesus first appeared to the rest of us.
Of course we told him what we had seen with her own eyes, but he refused to believe. He demanded proof! Who could blame him? He hadn’t been there with the rest of us to see Jesus with his own eyes, the very same eyes that watched as Jesus died. I know if I were in Thomas’ place, I would’ve had a hard time believing it, too. None of us bothered to believe Mary when she claimed that Jesus was alive, when she was emphatic that she had seen Jesus... that she had seen the Lord! Yet, we expected Thomas to believe. Why in the world should Thomas believe based on our words alone?
It’s not all that easy pretending to be in the disciples’ shoes, is it? But you and I can relate to what they were going through... we can understand... because you and I walk where they walked... we live where they lived...
And things haven’t really changed all that much in the 2000+ years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In some places around the world, Christians are still hiding in fear. 100 or more churches in France have been burned by extremist in this year. The church in the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan, is under constant attack. The church in China faces opposition, oppression and persecution from the government. Of course, you and I are blessed... we’re fortunate... we were born in America - and we can gather and worship freely... without fear of being arrested, or being heavily persecuted by our government - for now.
But we certainly live in a culture that’s become hostile to our beliefs... a secular world that ridicules our values. So we’re tempted, to some degree, to just close all the doors and shutter all the windows... and hide!
When the world attacks our stance on morality, and calls us “hateful” and “unloving” - or when they declare that you and I can’t love unless we accept... or when the world looks at us with suspicion and derision because we promote Jesus’ teaching that in order to gain life, we must first, lose it... when we truly practice forgiveness and restoration and profess the “way, the truth, and the life” we will be scrutinized and we may be ostracized.
But Jesus knows. He knows how hateful, and cruel, and rude, and hostile the world can be when confronted with the light of Christ’s righteousness. And Jesus is faithful to step into our lives - into our darkness - into our locked rooms and closed off hearts - offering us his peace... just like he did so long ago.
But Jesus offers us more than just peace - because in the light of the Resurrection - Jesus offers us his presence.
There’s a curious statement in our lesson... maybe you picked-up on it! We’re told after Jesus presented himself to his disciples... he “breathed” on them! Sounds kinda rude... doesn’t it?
But by telling us this... that Jesus “breathed” on the disciples... we’re being told that Jesus was giving his disciples life! Life in spite of sorrow, and grief. Life in the place of fear! Just as God literally breathed life into Adam’s lungs at creation... Jesus used the same term, the same word, as he breathed new life into his disciples... and us.
The Good News of the Gospel is Christ has overcome the world! The world that’s often cruel and fearful... holds no advantage over the peace of Christ and the new life he offers those who believe! His presence means we have no need to fear - because we’re never alone. Jesus is always here, giving us new life - abundant life - true life, that’s worth living.
Mother’s Day seems a fitting time to remind us, that the God who “loved us first, and loves us most” loves us even more than a mother loves her children. And he longs to free us from fear, and death... and anything else that threatens our peace.
But know this, too. The same Christ that offer us his peace and presence... has called each of us, to go out into the world - our world - and to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection... to stand in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May you and I be faithful witnesses to that which we know in our hearts is true: Christ is alive! Christ has risen! Christ has risen, indeed! Amen.