Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Grace be with you and PEACE from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I heard it through the grapevine. In case of this congregation, St. Matthew’s, this grapevine usually is our faithful and trusted church council president, Bill Bremer. So what did I hear? Some folks here are absolutely uncomfortable with the sharing of the peace before we gather at the Lord’s table to partake in Christ’s body and blood.
I am not saying this to put you on the spot or judge you. I encountered this kind of discomfort before. Some love the sharing of the peace – in fact, there are those who have trouble stopping once they get started – and some absolutely don’t. And I’ve learned in my years of being in ministry, that theological arguments for the sharing of the peace are usually fruitless. That the sharing of the peace is more than just saying hello, but that it is a mandate from Jesus himself: before you come before God, go, reconcile with your brother or sister. Make your peace with them. This is what the sharing of the peace is mostly about: to build true community with the other, without which we can’t have true community – and communion – with God. I could make this argument over and over, but I wouldn’t be able to convince those among you who don’t like the peace sharing that it is a marvelous, wonderful thing. Or have I convinced anyone just now?
And since I don’t want the church experience to be painful for you, but an experience of God’s love and grace and life for you, in the future we will skip the sharing of the peace .
Now though we may disagree on the value and enjoyment of the sharing of the peace, I hope we can agree on the following: that peace, God’s peace, is desperately needed in this world. And that this peace has to start with us. What hope is there for world peace if we can’t even get along with each other, and with our neighbor? We need God’s peace, especially in times when we are down and out, when we feel defeated, frustrated, lost, confused. We need the confidence that God, somehow, is still there, breathing on us, breathing with us, and not necessarily taking all our burdens away, but at least promising: you don’t have to bear this on your own.
Today’s gospel story starts on the day of the resurrection. To be more specific, it is evening. In the morning, the disciples heard the good news through the women, through Mary Magdalene: he is risen! And yet the disciples are hiding away because of fear of the Jews, we hear, that is the Jewish authorities who condemned Jesus. Imagine what they’ve been through: they witnessed the trial, torture, death and burial of their master and friend. And then Mary Magdalene came to them, I have seen him, he is risen! Talk about confusion and a roller coaster of emotions! The disciples have heard the amazing news, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and yet: something keeps them from embracing and believing this news. And so they are hiding away, lost in the whirlwind of events.
But locked doors and the walls of fear can’t keep the risen Christ away. They can’t keep the risen Christ from stepping right into their midst. And he does three things: he speaks, he shows his wounds, and he breathes on the disciples. And his very first words? “Shalom – Peace be with you.” These are the first words Jesus speaks to his disciples after the resurrection, and what powerful and beautiful words they are: Shalom, may you be whole again and at peace with God, with each other, and with yourself. With the risen Christ, this kind of shalom, this kind of peace is restored to the frightened and traumatized disciples.
At the same time, Jesus shows his wounds – and I will get back to that in just a moment – and Jesus breathes on them. With our modern and post-modern sensibilities, we may feel a little apprehensive about the breathing part, but I think we can get what is happening here: just as God breathed the first breath, the first Spirit, into Adam at creation and gave life to humanity, Jesus is re-animating the disciples, giving them spirit, giving them life – new life. This is a new beginning, and God’s shalom, God’s peace, cannot be separated from God’s breath and this newness of life.
Not that this re-animation brings all of the disciples’ spirits right back. I know, we usually focus on the proverbial doubting Thomas when we read this gospel. But what I find fascinating is that Thomas is not there, on that night of the resurrection. Who knows where he is, but he is not part of that first coming of Christ among the disciples. He is not part of the peace Jesus shares, he doesn’t receive the breath, the spirit, the new life. So it is quite understandable that he is skeptical about that whole resurrection business. But just read the story carefully: there are actually two parts to the story we have in today’s gospel: when we hear about the Thomas incident, it’s a full week after the resurrection, and again, the disciples are hiding away, and the doors are locked. Did you catch this? They are still hiding away, even though Jesus already appeared to them and shared God’s breath and shalom with them.
Jesus has to come a second time among them; Jesus has to share the peace again. And: Jesus again shows his wounds, as he already did the first time around. And by sharing his wounds, Jesus asserts his vulnerability.Jesus doesn’t pretend it’s all glory and victory and endless bliss. Jesus refuses to pretend that nothing has happened. And by showing his wounds, Jesus also acknowledges the hurt and grief Thomas and the others have been through. The hurt which, so often, makes us guarded and fearful and doubtful. Our wounds are part of who we are. God doesn’t want to cover them up. Jesus shows his sympathy, which literally means ‘suffering with’, when he offers his wounds to be seen and touched. And it is in this sense, that God offers us peace. It’s not that, all of a sudden, everything is okay. But that we can move on and have new life, even though we are hurt and bear our wounds and scars. There is life after hurt.
Thomas believes the moment he sees that Jesus doesn’t pretend, but shares in his own pain and suffering. I think it is quite telling that all this happens in a community, the community of disciples, the community of believers. Whenever we come together in the name of Christ as the family of God, we don’t have to pretend, we can show and share our hurt, and, by letting our guards down, allow God to enter our lives, allow the body of Christ to enter our lives and give us comfort and support and peace. Of course that’s risky, because we make ourselves vulnerable. But, as I can testify, the rewards of experiencing true community in which you are carried and cared for when you feel down are well worth that risk.
And let’s take this a step further: only if we share our wounds as people and as a community of God with others ‘out there’, and not pretend to be somehow better or better off because we are the saved, the chosen, and extend the peace to all who are hurting just as we are, will we be able to share the joy and the faith of Easter morning with all those who somehow feel excluded from whatever we do here behind closed church doors. That’s what we, St. Matthew’s, are about, after all: to be Christ’s presence in this community, a Christ who suffered and knows pain oh too well, and who shared his life with the world.
And may we all remind ourselves that church is a place and a community where it’s okay to let our guards down, a place where we are not worth any less just because we are not as strong or healthy as we would like to be. A place and a community where we can come as we are, in our brokenness and perfection as children of God. May we remember that we are, after all, the body of Christ, a Christ who bears his wounds. May we remember that this is the place where we experience and share God’s peace, God’s shalom, which heals us and makes us whole. And may this peace be with you – on this day and always.
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