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He Comes with Peace

Reverend Philip Stringer

John 20:19-31

LET US PRAY: We ask, O Lord, that the words which we hear this morning, and the worship which we offer, may bear fruit in our hearts and be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN

“...... and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear....”

Something has happened between the resurrection and our first two readings for today. Something has happened that changes the game. Our first two readings tell of communities in fellowship caring for one another, and of proclaiming good news. The gospel reading and the others ALL follow the resurrection -- yet the gospel begins by telling us that the doors of the house were locked in fear.

Something has happened to change all of that. It is not the resurrection itself that causes the change. No, it is something more. It is being ENCOUNTERED by the resurrection; owned and claimed by the resurrection is what changes things -- it is being met by the risen Lord in the place where one is living that makes all the difference.

Today we live in a world with many locked doors — some of them are old and some of them are new. Some of them are “out there” — in the community — in the nation — across the oceans — and some of them are “in here” — within ourselves.

Wherever it is that locked doors exist, the good news that is proclaimed to us today is that Jesus encounters us WHERE WE ARE — no matter how many locks are on the door — and no matter how secret are the places hidden behind those doors — Jesus enters in to meet us and set us free.

A little over 3 weeks ago, Bren Wilson was losing hope. He lives on a remote farm in the mountains west of Denver, CO. When 5 feet of snow fell, he decided to plow the road leading to the highway with his tractor. But the tractor got stuck in drifts miles from his home. He struck out on foot to reach the highway — which he thought would be plowed — but he never made it there. “I was up to my shoulders at times in snow, and I was clearing the snow with my arms back and forth and hip checking and I’d take a 10-inch step,” he said. “I was hallucinating, my brain wasn’t clear at all. I said, ‘you have got to get up and get back on that road,’ and I just swam through that snow.”

But after hours of effort, he was exhausted and dug a snow cave for shelter.

Bren’s daughter, Kyla, lives in New York. She knew her dad had gone out to plow, but when she hadn’t heard from him that evening, she got worried and called his phone, which was a call that saved his life.

She also called the authorities and then she stayed on the phone with her dad. She said, “I was able to stay on the phone with him for an hour and a half waiting for people to come. And he kept asking, ‘Are they coming? Are they coming?’ And I said, ‘Yes, they’re coming, I promise. They’re sending skiers. They’re sending snowmobiles. They’re sending everyone.’”

As she spoke with him, she could tell he was starting to fade. He said to her, “Do they know how bad off I am?” and then he said, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” And they started to say their goodbyes.

Later, he told a reporter, “All of a sudden, I saw — I was just getting ready to go,” he said. “I was closing my eyes, and I saw the lights from the headlamp from Alpine Rescue.” The rescue team had trudged through the chest-high snow to locate him.

That article came to mind again as I thought of how isolated and helpless we can feel at times. Whether it is because of the harsh, chilling effects of the world — or our own, inner struggles. There are times when we feel cut off, alone — and perhaps even hopeless. “Do they know how bad off I am? Are they coming?

The good news in our gospel — the good news of the Christian faith — is not that Jesus is merely risen; the good news is that he is risen for you! He knows where we are, and he has come to be with us and bring us his peace. And more than this, in our gospel text, the risen Christ encountered the disciples to bestow his peace and to call them into a new life that is not ruled by the boundaries of the world. A new life that is characterized by hope and joy rather than fear. A new life that is not lived behind locked doors and secret rooms.

Did you notice the multitude of verbs in our second reading today? A verb is a word that describes action or a state of being. Listen again to the first 5 verses of the First Letter of St. John: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us -- 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you....”

declare heard seen looked touched revealed seen testify declare revealed declare seen heard have writing heard proclaim -- all of those verbs in 5 short verses. It is by our senses that we are encountered by God. We hear the Word, we see the sacraments; we see the community of love that God has woven us into, and we must speak. How can we be silent?

“Peace be with you.” That is the message that follows Easter -- not just that Jesus is risen, but that he is risen to be with you and to give you his peace that is not restrained by the boundaries or defeated by the brokenness of the world. He has given to us the peace that set the first Christians free to love one another as our first reading tells us. It is a peace that enables the Christians in our second reading to proclaim and express the good news.

This is the peace that is given to us, and it will set us free when we have faith.

Seeing is important for us. We learn by our senses -- everything we know comes to us by either seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, touching or smelling. And so, God meets us on every sensory level. We hear the story proclaimed. We see and hear water poured in the font and we see the bread and wine lifted up. We feel the water on our head. We taste and smell as Holy Communion is given to us. God overwhelms our senses to meet us where we are. But these are not magic potions. Faith — belief and trust -- are what make the encounter meaningful for us. Faith & trust go beyond the senses of our body.

I think that Thomas gets a bad rap for the most part. He gets characterized — or caricatured — as obstinate. “Doubting Thomas.” I think that a strong case could be made that Thomas is fiercely loyal to Jesus — in my sermon last year I argued that Thomas insisted that his only loyalty was to the Jesus who had been crucified — so if the “Jesus” the others had met didn’t have the marks of crucifixion, then he wasn’t interested. I think that is amazing and beautiful.

But there is also the point of the new reality of Easter. Thomas makes the demand that perhaps we all would make if we were in his shoes. We all like evidence. Thomas merely states, “if Jesus is up and walking around, I don’t want to HEAR about it, I want to meet him and touch him -- THEN it will be real for me.”

One of the wonderful details of our gospel text is that Jesus -- the risen and living God — the fullness of the Almighty — stoops to meet the demands of Thomas. Jesus comes to Thomas on Thomas’ terms and shows himself and offers peace. In other words, Jesus comes to meet Thomas where he is.

In the end, Thomas sees that he has chosen the harder way. He has demanded to touch the wounds — but when Jesus appears and agrees to allow this — notice that Thomas does not actually do it. Having been encountered by Jesus, he doesn’t touch because he realizes that faith goes beyond the senses. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed, happy are those who are at peace with the truth and do not require constant proofs and challenges from it. Happy are those who have faith in the truth and not faith in the crutches. For faith in the truth and not in the proof is what gives us the peace that Christ offers.

We hear the word, we see the sacraments, we see the community of love into which God has woven us, and we cannot be silent. We live in a world where the doors slam shut and people divide into camps that ultimately are divided again and again — and people become more and more isolated by their fears. People are more and more removed from each other, and they are looking for a relationship and a safe place.

Into this world of closed off, isolated rooms and closed doors, enters Jesus to stand in our midst. Jesus comes to encounter and bestow peace such as the world can never give.

The risen Jesus was not raised for his own sake but for ours. He is risen so that being alive he may meet us where we are and bestow his peace which goes beyond the boundaries in this world. Peace that survives this world; peace that breaks down and crosses barriers and knits us together in fellowship with God and one another.

“We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

At age twelve, Robert Louis Stevenson was looking out into the dark from his upstairs window watching a man light the streetlamps. Stevenson’s governess came into the room and asked what he was doing. He replied, “I am watching a man cut holes in the darkness.”

Jesus said to his followers, “Let your light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” We are lamplighters who cut holes in the spiritual darkness of people’s lives with the good news that Christ is not only alive -- he is with us! There is no locked door or room of solitude that can keep him out. He is with us and with him comes peace.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! AMEN


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