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“Peace be with You” – A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter by Norman Knowles

April 13, 2013

How different this day seems from last Sunday.  One week ago we sparkled and smiled-we sang and we soared as we took part in the great festival of our faith-Easter, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.

But today-today seems to be just another Sunday.

Gone too are the secular aspects of Easter.  The chocolate bunnies have been consumed.  The brightly coloured eggs which were hidden have been found and eaten.  The jellybeans mashed into the carpet have been removed with some effort.

Indeed, I suspect that most of us feel as though we are right back where we were before Easter-fighting familiar frustrations and fears and bearing well known burdens; it’s as if Easter had never occurred.

In many ways, our situation is no different from that of the disciples.  In this morning’s gospel, we read that the disciples were scared.  They were so afraid that they met secretly, at night, behind locked doors.  They were afraid because they feared the authorities; they were afraid that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them.  They were afraid because they did not know what to make of the events that they had witnessed and they did not know what they were required to do.

Now they already knew that Jesus had risen-the women had told them about they empty tomb and about encountering Jesus in the garden.  But despite this knowledge, they are powerless and afraid and hiding from the world; some like Thomas, are not even convinced that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead.

The disciples had witnessed much, taken part in much, and been commanded by Jesus to do much.  They had listened to Jesus’ words, witnessed his miracles, heard his commands, and now they have learned that he has risen-but yet they are powerless and afraid; afraid to go into the world and proclaim Jesus’s resurrection and to follow his commandments; and they are full of doubts; they are not sure what to believe or what to do.

You and I often share the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness of those persons huddled in the backroom.  We too, are often shattered by the strain of battle, the strain of living, the strain of trying to make sense out of things, the strain of trying to do what is right-but of not being sure of just how to do it, or where to do it, or when to do it. 

And how often do we, like the disciples, unable or unwilling to face our fears and doubts, retreat behind locked doors of our own making; how often do we isolate ourselves from the world rather than confront the problems of the world; how often do we erect barriers to protect ourselves from others; and how often do we lock up deep within ourselves the demons we do not want others to know about and which we simply refuse to face and acknowledge.

And how often do we as a church act like the disciples and retreat behind closed doors because of our fears.   Have our churches become exclusive hideaways where we lock ourselves away from those who scare us-people who are different from ourselves, people who challenge our beliefs and values?  Do our fears-our fears of dwindling numbers and resources, our fears of the implications of the legal actions before us, our fear of change and new ideas-cause us to huddle together behind church doors closed to the world; do our fears cause us to cling tightly on to what we have rather than face the realities of our past mistakes and the new realities that confront us?

Like the first disciples, we too are often fearful, and in our fear we cling together, hiding ourselves away behind closed doors.

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Yet 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 he said to them: ‘Peace be to you.’

But how can there be peace-how can there be peace in the midst of turmoil; how can there be peace in the midst of fear; how can there be peace in the midst of doubt?

False ideas about peace and joy abound in our society.  These false ideas can distort our entire picture of what life is supposed to be about, and of who Christ is and of who we are.  In her book, First Person Mortal: Personal Narratives of Illness, Dying and Grief, Lucy Bregman relates the story of how she once went to a worship service where the entire congregation was told: “If you don’t have a smile on your face, you’ve got the wrong religion and shouldn’t be here.  Christianity is a religion of peace and joy.”  Bregman fled the service in tears-because she did not feel at that time like she could smile-she was facing a life threatening illness and did not feel either joy or peace; she came to worship looking for comfort.  Instead, she was told that she was not good enough for God because she was not smiling. But God never asks us to falsify our experience-our risen Lord never waits until we are already happy and joyful to come to us-and he never wears a pasted on smile. 

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 and he 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.  Now Christ could have miraculously obliterated the wounds 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 peace and joy.

The risen Christ shows the disciples his wounds as if to say: See these wounds, feel them, and know that it is all right to hurt.  Pain comes to us all.  I was hurt as all people are hurt-but that pain, that hurt, no longer has dominion over me.  I live as I said I would.  I told you I would suffer and that you would suffer also if you followed me.  But I also told you that after passing through these trials, that pain and even death would lose its power-its power over me and those who believe in me.

Jesus came to his disciples, despite their fears, doubts and turmoil, to show them that he lived despite the worst that could happen.  The “peace” that Jesus offers his disciples is more than a greeting; it is an assurance that in the midst of their fear, their doubt, their turmoil he is still among them.  In offering the disciples ‘peace’ the risen Jesus declares that because he 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 the locked room.  In accepting Christ’s peace, the disciples were empowered and emboldened; they unbolted the door and left the room and went into the world to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ-the risen Lord and to serve others.  They did not keep this peace to themselves and remain locked up behind closed doors-rather they went out with confidence and conviction to proclaim this peace to all.

But notice-notice that the disciples’ external circumstances had not changed when they received and accepted the peace that Christ offered them.  They believe in the risen Christ, they have confidence in him, they knew that nothing could separate them from God’s love-but they still had to face the same situation they faced before they broke into the room and hid in fear; they still had to face the authorities; they still had to risk going out in the streets; they still had to deal with the crowds who had mocked and crucified Jesus.  They still had to face trials and tribulations-as we do.  Opening the doors of our hearts and letting Christ in is a risky thing.

The peace that the risen Christ offered the disciples and which he offers to us does not mean that life will plain sailing for us; it does not mean that we will never have to suffer.

The peace that the risen Christ offered the disciples and which he offers to us does, however, link us to a power greater than ourselves-a power that offers true peace in the midst of the fears, turmoil and doubts of life.

The disciples were behind locked doors because they were afraid and full of doubt.  We all know what it is to be afraid and to be full of doubt.  We know how it feels to hide behind locked doors, hiding from things that threaten us and our beliefs.  But the risen Christ breaks through these locked doors and offers us peace; Jesus does not wait until the disciples have regained their confidence; he does not wait until they have worked through their all doubts; rather he comes through the doors that are there and accepts what he finds on the other side.

And he does something more-he called the disciples and he calls us to mission and to service.  The risen Christ called the disciples to step out from the behind closed doors and to share the peace that he offered them to others.  It was only as they tried to live out that mission and ministry, it was only as they tried to follow Christ’s command to be servants-it was only then that their fears and their doubts evaporated; it was only then that discovered the ability and strength that lay within themselves; it was then that they fully experienced the peace of Christ.

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Go forth in peace, to love and to serve the risen Christ.  Amen.

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NormanMany thanks to our Assistant, the Reverend Dr. Norman Knowles, for sharing this powerful sermon with us at our 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. Services on April 7, and graciously giving permission for it to be posted here.

This month, Norman is sharing about eight different “Glorious Companions” for our journey who are part of our Anglican – and especially our Canadian Anglican – heritage. You can hear these presentations on Wednesdays at 7:15 p.m. at Holy Nativity Anglican Parish. For details, please click here. There’s a sign up list in the Hall for anyone who’d like a ride.

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Embedded below are four pieces of music about receiving and sharing Our Risen Lord’s peace.

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