April 24: Peace be with you

Scripture Reading (CEB) John 20:19-31

19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”  26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

Peace be with you

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities… 

I don’t buy it.  The Jews didn’t build the crosses, nor send the police to arrest Jesus, or even elect Pilate.  The Jewish authorities had plenty of run-ins with Jesus over his three years of ministry, and had plenty of opportunities to stop him if that’s what they wished.  They spent more time questioning him – wanting to learn more.  So I don’t buy that the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.  I don’t even think they were hiding because of the Romans, or the fickle crowds that so quickly turned on Jesus when they saw he wasn’t the conqueror they envisioned. 

I think they were hiding because of grief.

I have met very few people whose lives have not been affected by grief – especially after the last two years.  We grieve that things are not as simple as they used to be.  We grieve the loss of loved ones and all that love with no place to go…We grieve wars and senseless violence and the harm we carelessly do to one another.  I miss the easy days (that weren’t really easy – but easy in comparison to now).  All that stuff we did without a second thought.  My son recently turned fourteen and we all had to stop him from blowing out the candles on his cake.  For nearly twelve years of his life that casual spitting on someone else’s food was a part of tradition!  I miss those simple days. 

And so we hide behind locked doors, not necessarily because of fear, but about the grief we collectively carry that keeps us locked away for fear of what might be next.  The Lenten series of ‘good enough’ was an effort to help us collectively move towards an acceptance of the way things are rather than yearning for perfection.  We’ve realized very few stories of the Bible feature perfection, and yet in our modern world, that’s all we can obsess about.  When a coffee cup was left in a shot for a brief second of one of the final ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes, the internet exploded in ridicule![1]  We are painfully accustomed to perfection being the norm. 

Even preachers.  On Palm Sunday, I added the final plant to our near finished display.  That day I had chosen the (false[2]) ‘rose of Jericho.’  Dubbed the resurrection plant, I had read up on how this little tumbleweed upon receiving a little bit of water and a little bit of sun, would come back to life.  And it did.  And we can debate dormant vs death and all that – but I’d rather talk about expectations. 

See – I was disappointed.  I saw all the pictures so I knew what I was getting.  But I wanted more life.  I wanted more green.  I like Thomas wanted Jesus with healed hands – and not the nail holes and wounds of death.  I wanted our almost-third-Easter of pandemic to not have to talk about it anymore.  I wanted grief to be a distant memory.  But it’s not and it should never be.  I wanted this to be a beautiful Earth Day reminder that with a little care and concern that we can re-bloom – we can reverse the powerful impact human growth and human industry have had on the planet – we can alleviate the depression and fear that the younger generation fear about what is being left them.  But even a little bit of green is in the right direction.  Embracing resurrection is making peace with our disappointment and sorrow. 

Grief is a constant companion in our lives.  Pretending it doesn’t exist is delusional, or fighting to ignore grief’s impact is a waste of time and energy.  There’s sadness when our expectations are not met.  There’s grief when we recognize the humanity and failings of others.  Even ‘good enough’ is a releasing of the hopes and dreams of perfection and that saddens us.  There’s plenty we all would like to go back and change if we could.  I wish six years ago when I started my ministry here with you, that I had said, I will fail you.  I will disappoint you. I will say something in a sermon or a conversation that will hurt you.  I am human and if we cannot bear forgiveness then we’ve failed the very Christ we pretend to follow, for we are merely here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load[3] of life together.   

Embracing our grief doesn’t invite despair, but it better prepares us to welcome joy.  For those disciples in the locked room prayed that they wouldn’t stay there forever.  That safety instead protected them in a way to heal and to let go of (unreasonable) expectations if only to better appreciate what still remains.

For while it’s been a week since Easter, this passage was the same day when Mary went to the tomb early in the morning.  It might have been the re-creation of a new day, but the disciples who wanted no part of the “women’s work” thinking it was their job to deal with grief and sorrow – for those who remained behind stayed entrenched in their sorrow.  They grieved all weekend long…so what’s one more day?  And when the women brought their farfetched stories of rolled away stones and angels and gardeners…

 Mary Magdalene … announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” (says the verse
just before our passage today) Then she told them what he said to her.  

We don’t hear their reaction because we know what it is.  Hours pass.  The story jumps.  The doubt grows.  The grief lingers.  Healing doesn’t come by just sitting wishing things were different. 

Instead, Jesus intervenes.  We talk about divine intervention, but here it is described.  Jesus enters the room and says “Peace be with you.” 

I know it doesn’t happen every week for all of you, but when you need it most, I pray Jesus enters this room, in your room at home, to say the same thing.  “Peace be with you.”

If you’re feeling despair about the state of the world – climate change and those who hide behind their own locked doors denying it, while you do all you can no matter how small to re-green and re-create this Earth… I pray you hear the words of Jesus… “Peace be with you…”

If you’re in the midst of your own grief filled with loss and change, and you’re worried about the state of your life – I pray you might believe that Jesus too speaks these words to you… “Peace be with you.” 

I pray…these words of Spencer LaJoye…[4]

Dear blessed creator, dear mother, dear savior

Dear father, dear brother, dear holy other

Dear sibling, dear baby, dear patiently waiting

Dear sad and confused, dear stuck and abused

Dear end-of-your-rope, dear worn out and broke,

Dear go-it-alone, dear running from home

Dear righteously angry, forsaken by family

Dear jaded and quiet, dear tough and defiant

I pray that I’m heard, and I pray that this works

I pray if a prayer has been used as a sword against you and your heart,

against you and your word

I pray that this prayer is a plowshare, of sorts that it might break you open,

it might help you grow

I pray that your body gets all that it needs

and if you don’t want healing, I just pray for peace

I pray that your burden gets lighter each day

I pray the mean voice in your head goes away

I pray that you honor the grief as it comes

I pray you can feel all the life in your lungs

I pray that if you go all day being brave

that you can go home, go to bed feeling safe

I pray you’re forgiven, I pray you forgive

I pray you set boundaries and openly live

I pray that you feel you are worth never leaving I pray that you know I will always believe you

I pray that you’re heard, and I pray that this works

Amen on behalf of the last and the least

On behalf of the anxious, depressed, and unseen

Amen for the workers, the hungry, the houseless

Amen for the lonely and recently spouseless

Amen for the queers and their closeted peers

Amen for the bullied who hold in their tears

Amen for the mothers of little Black sons

Amen for the kids who grow up scared of guns

Amen for the addicts, the ashamed and hungover

Amen for the calloused, the wisened, the sober

Amen for the ones who want life to be over

Amen for the leaders who lose their composure

Amen for the parents who just lost their baby

Amen for the chronically ill and disabled

Amen for the children down at the border

Amen for the victims of our law and order

I pray that you’re heard and I pray that this works

I pray if a prayer has been used as a sword against you and your heart,
against you and your word

I pray that this prayer is a plowshare, of sorts

Peace be with you…I pray…

[1] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/game-thrones-viewers-spot-starbucks-cup-episode-1207606/

[2] False according to https://houseplantresourcecenter.com/jericho-rose/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iu_T_FRvbY

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhOZv5i7CHY


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