Easter 2: Peace be with you

When suddenly he was there in the midst of them; “Peace be with you,” he said. Amen.

John 20:19-31

Peace be with you, a phrase we use very often in church, both in the liturgy and as a general greeting, just as Jesus used it in the upper room. During the pandemic we have needed the Peace of Christ in bucket loads. I have spent a great deal of time during the past year in meditation, remembering different times in my life when ‘peace’ was an emotion that I really needed but couldn’t find.

I do remember clearly, during my pre ordination retreat in ‘St Mary at the Cross’ at Edgware Abbey, I spent several hours sitting quietly in the chapel at the foot of a large crucifix. I had been challenged to meditate on the figure of Christ and pray about what it was I was about to do. In the side chapel there was a beautiful statue of Mary his mother, holding the crucified Jesus in her arms just as she would have held him as a baby. I was moved to tears.

It took me back and I remembered St Mary Magdalene’s Pilgrimage and the Passion play at Oberamergaur in the year 2000, and the scene when Jesus was brought down from the cross. I clearly remember Mary’s cry of despair and at the time, it cut through my heart. In that moment I really got it, we could say it was a ‘light bulb’ moment. Christ died for me, I had never felt so close to God before; this was a truly uplifting and deeply spiritual moment. In attempting to describe my experience it is not that I felt transported out of this world, but felt God’s presence in body mind and soul with my whole being. Some of us at St Mary’s may be returning to Oberamergaur very soon and I pray you have such an experience to remember too.

In coming to believe, not everyone by any means has a sudden or light bulb moment, for others it might be a slow and steady building of a firm faith, step by step. Something we do all share though at some point is feeling left out and we can have a good idea of how Thomas felt at missing Jesus’ appearance in the upper room.

It was no wonder he was sceptical when receiving an excited testimony about a visit from the risen Jesus; he wanted to see Jesus too. We can only imagine the situation, the disciples were holed up and terrified that the Jewish authorities would come and haul them off to kill them too. When suddenly he was there in the midst of them; “Peace be with you,” he said. Just like Thomas, would they have been so excited if this Good News had come to them second hand?

I have a real soft spot for Thomas; he had waited eight days, wondering why Jesus had left him out. He may well have been wondering if it had all been a huge mistake to follow this man, who he had been prepared to die for. All of us have times in life when doubt crowds out faith; we would all like to have certainties about our future. It is reassuring that Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his doubt, but gently offered him the opportunity to ‘touch and believe’. This was a ‘light bulb moment’ for Thomas, who said, “show me the way”, and who, when seeing the Risen Lord for himself needed no further proof, he was first to put it all together and recognise that Jesus was God.

‘Peace be with you’ is not only a recognised greeting but also a command. “Shalom”, there won’t be many among us this morning that don’t know the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ means ‘peace’. But there is a lot more to this little word than the greeting of ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ commonly used in polite Jewish society, or even among Christians during the exchange of the ‘Peace’ in our worship Sunday by Sunday.

The context of Jesus’ ministry was based on Jewish tradition. In each of his parables he unfolded and imbibed the Law of Moses, with its many layers of meaning. The same can be said of the language, the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ has many layers of meaning, it carries a sense of wholeness, fullness, completeness, harmony, total well being and much more. So much more that all the early believers were moved to be of “one heart and soul” as Luke puts it. The early Christians were willing to share all they owned in order to share in this blessing of peace. We are invited to do the same as we grow in faith, trust and commitment.

Just as the disciples of the first century were, we 21st century Christians are, sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring Christ’s peace into the world, to proclaim in Jesus’ name, the forgiveness of sin, for all who believe and trust in him. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

As a church, we are called to gather together in peace and harmony as an inclusive group. We are called to welcome those who have yet to explore ideas of spirituality, and to share Christ’s peace, Shalom, with them.

In the scriptures, and by scholars down the ages, we have been given many titles for Jesus, ‘Son of God’ ‘high priest’ ‘prophet’ and for some, these seem to suggest something of a job description, but for me however, Jesus ‘the prince of peace’ describes his life, ministry and his personality completely.

In the Christmas story, when God’s messenger told the shepherds of Jesus’ birth, the heavenly host sang out “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favours”. Later Jesus said to his disciples “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” This is the Shalom we are to proclaim to the whole of creation, the peace that Thomas, in his ‘light bulb moment’ recognised in the risen Christ.

May we who have been sent out in his name be an example of his love and compassion for the whole of creation? May our lives, our joint vocation of peace and service, through the Holy Spirit, be a breath of New Life to all as we share Shalom.

Father we thank you for Thomas, for the blessing of doubt and the joy in coming to believe. And may your Kingdom Come! Amen.

The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 11/04/2021