Peace that Passes Understanding

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless 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, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Prayer – Gracious God, we live in days that seem to be directed and controlled by fear. From religion to politics, from daily news to daily devotionals, fear seems to be a common thread. Remind us this day, O Lord, that you come to us speaking the heart of your gospel – do not be afraid – peace be with you – believe, trust, embrace my peace – that is what you speak to us. May we allow that to truth to enfold our heart and soul – amen.

 

Last Sunday I posed a theological question for you to consider – “Would it make a difference to your faith if the boulder in front of the tomb had never been moved and we would never know if there was resurrection? Would it make a difference to your faith?”  Did you think about that question this past week? And perhaps a deeper theological question for you and for me, does Easter make a difference to how you, how I have lived out our faith this week? If it hasn’t made a difference, then perhaps it doesn’t matter if there was a resurrection???

Today we pick up where we left off last week, Mary Magdalene had just burst in with the excited and exciting news, “I have seen the Lord!”  And according to our passage, no one budged behind the locked doors of that upper room. Why didn’t the disciples move? Why didn’t they go looking for the risen Lord?  Did the resurrection make a difference to them as they were locked behind closed doors?

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it.  He walked for miles, and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verbally challenging the religious institutions, professing allegiance to a power higher than Rome’s imperial leader Caesar.  He was incredible. He should have been king.

Yet, here the disciples were, locked behind closed doors.  Their leader had been crucified – dying a shameful death reserved for the lowest criminals.  If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no king. The followers of this donkey-riding king now spent their fear drenched moments huddled together in a room filled with fear concerning an onslaught of those who they thought hunted them; the ones who sought to end this movement of the man from Galilee.  Fear was thick and tangible; surrounding everyone and filling each word and look.

We know this fear.  Every single day we’re told to be afraid.  From crime rates to unemployment, terrorism to isolation, we are a people living in fear.  We’re told to fear ISIS. We’re reminded every few days that we are on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea.  We’re told to be afraid of immigrants. We’re afraid of sickness. We’re afraid of loss. We’re told to be afraid of the wealthy.  We’re afraid of what we lack. We’re afraid of our failures. We’re afraid of our past. We’re afraid of each other.

The rise of Donald Trump in American politics speaks to the depth and influential nature of our national and international fear.  We’re a people afraid, and that fear has trapped us. Like the disciples in those early moments after Jesus’ death, we’ve locked ourselves in an upper room, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Aung San Suu Kyi, political activist, prisoner, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize says, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” Like those early disciples, we are well aware of fear and the prisons we lock ourselves in.

That state of being locked up, of being imprisoned, is emblematic of so much of our lives today.  Fear of this or that, anxiety over some aspect of life, makes us lock up the door of our hearts. All of us are familiar with locks – every door of our houses has a lock.  At my house, the service door to the garage door is locked, and on top of that, the basement door leading from the garage to the kitchen has not just one lock but two locks on it.  We put cut-off broom handles in the tracks of the sliding doors so as to make double-sure that no one can outwit the door’s normal lock. Our front and back doors have two locks, the door lock and a deadbolt, and I assure you every night, we check to make sure both are secure.  We do this, we think, to keep the world out but we all know that sometimes it is also possible to lock ourselves in.

We have lots of ways to lock ourselves in.  We refuse to go out because we’re too ashamed, too blue, too afraid we will run into so-and-so and, frankly, we can’t stand the thought.  Sometimes we stay away from church because of the same reason. We get Caller ID on our phones so we can see, well before picking up, who is calling and decide if we want to answer it.  If it’s someone we don’t want to talk to or can’t bear to talk to out of shame or fear or whatever, we just don’t answer. Again, we lock ourselves in just as often as we lock the world out.

Shame and fear are kissing cousins.  If you are ashamed of something that is known already, you are afraid of being seen by people whose eyes you will catch with flickers of disapproval.  If you are ashamed of something people don’t know about, you are afraid that just by being out and about in public, someone will somehow discover it, and it scares you half to death.  That was true for me after I had been molested as a 10 year old – I hated to go to PE and change clothes in the locker room because I was quite certain someone could somehow see that invisible mark of shame on my body and soul.  For every last one of us, there are things we have done whose discovery we fear. For every last one of us, there are things that we simply fear make us unworthy.

But there comes a time when we discover that we have locked up so much that as it turns out, most of our very selves are imprisoned as we live in constant fear.  Not just the fear of this or that aspect of our lives will be uncovered, but that the totality of our unworthiness will be on display and we will not have a friend left in the world.  Fear of ourselves seems to be much stronger than fear of someone/something else.

If that first Easter began with the lamentable sadness of death’s reality in our world, then that same day ended with the lamentable sadness of shame.  The disciples were ashamed of what they had done; they were ashamed of what their cowardice revealed about who they were as children of God. So they locked the door, telling themselves they were keeping the searching Jews out when really they were maybe keeping themselves locked in.  But then Jesus does what he always does for everyone locked up in shame – he comes in anyway. He enters the room, he enters the heart, he breaks into the shame.

Jesus leaves no quarter for fear and shame because he no sooner pops in on them and tells them, “Peace be with you!”  He says it immediately the way he always does. “Peace be with you!” He says to them and ultimately to us, ‘it’s alright,’ don’t live in fear, don’t live in shame.   He speaks a word that is the opposite of fear and so squelches shame, puts away and banishes any thoughts the disciples, or us, may have about Jesus bearing a grudge or judgment.  Jesus was not out to beat up the disciples, but to create a whole, a whole, new situation. Jesus never said a word about their past actions, their betrayals or denials. He does not even overtly say, “Forget about it” or “I forgive you.”  Instead he gives them a Spirit that tells them, in a way more compelling than words alone, that of course – all is forgiven. He even sends them out into the world on a mission of forgiveness. The cause of the Lord cannot move forward so long as any of his people insist on staying behind locked doors.

Peace – Shalom.  We think that having peace means a lack of conflict.  But more than that, peace in the sense of shalom is that settled sense that everything is in plumb, everything is in its proper place as we are all together webbed into relationships that are mutually edifying and up-building.  We no longer live in fear that someone will open up our locked doors only to have our hidden lives come tumbling out in one utter, embarrassing, despicable mess. Instead, after Easter, we can live with the sense that the things that were once in the closet have either been put away by the grace of Christ or they have been put back into their proper place somewhere else in life.

One of the more famous images in scripture comes when Jesus says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’  Ordinarily when someone knocks on our locked doors, we have to get up and go peer through the window to decide if we are going to unlock the door and open it.  The good news of Easter is that even if we are afraid to do that, too ashamed or too paralyzed by this or that feature of our lives, the lock won’t stop Jesus. He will appear in the middle of our locked-up lives and before we even have a chance to say a blessed thing, he will say, “Peace be with you!”  When Jesus does, all I can pray is that we will take him seriously. He may even show us the holes in his hands and the slit in his side just as he had to do for Thomas, but it is only to prove to us once and for all that when he grants peace to our hearts, it’s the genuine article and the real deal.

Why did the disciples stay locked behind closed doors?  It is hard to know but in the end it didn’t matter. Jesus always comes looking for us, starting in those locked up places of our lives.  Sisters and brothers, peace be with you. There is no better parting word for Easter than that. PEACE. It’s all right. You are all right.  SHALOM – PEACE THAT PASSES UNDERSTANDING. Thanks be to God – amen.