Sermon for Sunday, April 11, 2021 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31
Today, I’d like to talk about peace. But first, a confession. I am a total, unabashed, and excitable nerd. Most of you know this about me. I know way too much about Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and several other properties that live in nerd space. My first book, which became Digital Disciple, originally had the working title “God’s Nerd.” I even co-host a podcast called The Podcast for Nerdy Christians. I say all this to prepare you for what I am about to say next.
When I created the world of Sularil in which to set my first ever Dungeons and Dragons game, one of the things I really wanted to do was create a language native to the world. The very first new word I created for my Elvish language was the word, “Peace” – “Fyara” in Elvish. I wanted “Peace” to be the word of greeting for the elves in my world, and so the first person would say, “Fyara” (Peace) and the other person would respond, “Fyarana” (Deeper peace).
I did this because the elves in my world are peaceful people. I wanted the first and last word on their lips to be a word of peace. Indeed, this word is also the first word on the lips of the Risen Christ when he encounters the disciples locked in the room on the night of the resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he says (or in the Elvish translation of the Gospel, “Fyara”). Three times in today’s reading, he offers them peace. Jesus offers this greeting of peace to his fearful disciples, and like so much else in John’s Gospel, even something as simple as this greeting has layers of meaning.
So what is this “peace” that Jesus offers to the disciples? The surface level is, of course, the greeting still heard today in Hebrew and Arabic speaking countries: “Shalom” and “Salam.”
On the level below the surface, Jesus’ word of peace to the disciples acknowledges their current situation. There they are, huddled together in the house: shutters drawn, candles doused, door locked for fear of the people who colluded to put Jesus to death. Would the disciples be next? Would the chief priests and the council be satisfied with the blood of the leader or would they pursue the followers too? How had the disciples gotten everything so wrong? How could they have followed someone so disposable, so utterly breakable as Jesus turned out to be?
And into their fear, their confusion, their uncertainty, the Risen Christ comes and says, “Peace be with you.” He comes to them even though the door is barricaded. He comes to them even though three days earlier he had died an excruciating death on the cross. He comes to them even though they aren’t expecting him, even though they haven’t understood what he told them about who he is. And when Jesus gives them peace, their fear turns into joy. We have spent much of the last year barricaded in our own houses. And yet, our locked doors could not keep out the Risen Christ, who enters into our fear and uncertainty and speaks a word of peace.
But let’s not stop there: let’s go a level deeper. When the Risen Christ offers the disciples peace, he is offering them more than a greeting and an antidote for fear. He is offering them “the abiding presence of God.” Years ago, this is how a woman at a Bible study I was leading defined peace, and it has stuck with me. Peace is not simply the absence of noise or distraction or conflict. Peace is not the absence of anything at all. Peace is “the abiding presence of God.” Peace happens when we tune ourselves to God’s abiding presence. Peace happens when we resonate with God’s movement in our lives. Peace happens when we discover the inner serenity that God provides in the midst of all the challenges we face in our lives.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not equating peace with passivity. Our God is a God of love and justice, and so to resonate with God’s abiding presence often means to work to dismantle unjust systems that stand in the way of people’s flourishing. Jesus taught the way of peaceful nonviolence, a method that has changed the world in the hands of people like Ghandi and Dr. King. Peace, in this instance, is the centering ideal that allows us to speak against injustice.
With that in mind, we might have to modify our understanding of peace. The peace which the Risen Christ offers to the disciples and to us does not excuse us from the pain and suffering that life brings. But Jesus never promised us a reprieve from tragedy. Rather, he promised something so much greater. He promised to be with us always to the end of the ages. He promised to suffer with us, to cry with us, to break his heart open when our hearts break and pour his heart’s love on our wounds. There is no door we can pass through, which the abiding presence of God has not already entered. There is no depth or height that we can attain and not be where God already is. As the psalmist says in one of the most beautiful passages in the book of Psalms:
Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.
But all too often we forget that God’s presence abides, and we fail to look for God in situations where we conclude that God couldn’t possibly be. And yet how many of us have said at one time or another, “I just need a moment’s peace.” By our definition, when we say that, what we are really saying is, “I just need a moment to remind myself that I am in God’s abiding presence, a moment to drink in God’s love, a moment to be folded into the arms of grace.” This is what “peace” is.
Ah, but there is another level deeper still. When the Risen Christ offers peace to the disciples, the peace comes with a mission: “Peace be with you,” says Jesus. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus not only gives them the word of peace; he also breathes God’s abiding presence into them through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father has sent Jesus to bring peace, and now Jesus commissions the disciples and us to do the same. The peace, which Jesus offers, is not for us alone, but for us to share with this damaged, broken world.
One thing I miss terribly in these online services of Morning Prayer is the element of the Sunday service we call “The Peace.” Right in the middle of the service, between hearing the Word and sharing Communion, I would stand before you and say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” And you would respond: “And also with you.” Then we would greet one another with God’s peace. Just think how powerful an act this is. In these simple words – “Peace be with you” – we bring with us greetings from our Lord. We bring with us the joy that quells fear and uncertainty. And we bring with us the abiding presence of God and of the Risen Christ. Now just imagine: if we took this greeting we practice in church and carried the Peace of the Lord into every wave, every fist bump, every tilt of the head, every smile of recognition, every embrace, then we would change the world.
Recently I changed my email signature so that I close every message with “Peace.” I invite you to make “peace” your greeting and your spiritual posture. Other languages do it – Shalom, Salam, Fyara – so why not English? Greet everyone you see with a word of peace. And in their lives, be a witness to the abiding presence of God.
Season 3 3/4, Episode 3:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
We’re posting a mini-season in between Seasons 3 and 4 in order to jump from Harry Potter 3 to Harry Potter 7. We’ll deep dive into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when we get to season 4. For now, in Season 3 and 3/4, we’re spending one episode each chatting about the really long, middle year Harry Potter novels. Today is #6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince