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St Mary’s 23-04-2017 Psalm 16
2nd Sunday of Easter Acts 2:22-28
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It seems like a long time since we gathered here last Sunday and proclaimed
The Lord is risen
He is risen indeed
Today we gather in the midst of normal life, back down form the high of last week’s incredible celebration in this place. Of course it’s only seven days since that happened – but in that seven days we will each and all have come face to face with the realities of ordinary life of this world. It may have been an easy, restful week. It may have been an exciting week. It may have been a week of upset and distress within or around us. For not just at Easter time the reality will always be that we never know what a new week will bring. And that’s why these words that we heard Jesus speak to his disciples in that locked room have such an important place in our life of faith ‘Peace be with you.’
This morning’s readings have given us past, present and future of the Easter story. The past came in the words we heard from the Psalmist speaking of the security felt in living in the Lord’s presence:
‘You will show me the path that leads to life;
your presence fills me with joy
and brings me pleasure for ever.’
The future comes in the Acts of the Apostles when we heard Peter speaking of Jesus and his divine authority. Here we’re given an insight into what life was like for the first apostles. Peter, the apostle, the follower, has had to bite the bullet and, soon after Jesus’ death and rising, address the people the disciples have encountered. It’s a tale of how in these early days, as the beginnings of the first church were taking shape, some of Jesus’ followers found themselves in a situation which must have resembled too closely for comfort what they had seen their master doing - and what, it seems, they paid scant attention to at the time. I bet they wish now they had paid more attention!
And the present takes place in the gospel account of the first days after the traumatic events of that first Easter. In a locked room where the reality couldn’t be further from the sentiments of the other two readings – or further from how they imagined it was going to be. A group of Jesus’ closest friends huddled in a locked room, in fear of what was in store for them. They’re bewildered, stunned, very afraid. They’ve locked the doors. Of course they’re frightened. Who can blame them, for a knock on the door could mean the end for them all - or will one of them be next? Then Jesus appears, not knocking on the door, but right in the midst of them. His first words? ‘Peace be with you’. He shows them his hands and his side, and they recognise their Lord. Can we imagine the relief that must have swept over them? Jesus’ appearance brings his disciples peace - not just the absence of anxiety, but the shalom, the real peace of God, something we all yearn for at times.
But Thomas wasn’t there when all this happened. He comes back and the others regale him with excited stories of what has just taken place - but he doesn’t take on their excitement, nor does he take their word. Thomas wants to see for himself. That’s where Doubting Thomas comes from. But not so fast, for Jesus understands about doubts and so one week later Thomas will be offered the proof he seeks, by a Jesus who understands what it is to be human, to have questions and doubts. Jesus shows him the marks and invites him to put his hand in his side. But Thomas has no need so to do, for in this Jesus he recognises what he has been searching for, and responds, ‘My Lord and my God!’
So twice Jesus is present with his disciples and twice he brings peace. But did you notice that he actually brings three gifts to them - and by association to us as well? Peace, the Holy Spirit, and a commission to carry out God’s ‘forgiving work’. That commission should underpin all that we do in our living as followers of Jesus.
In the uncertainty of an unknown and terrifying situation, Jesus appears in the room with his disciples. He gives them what they so desperately need, without them asking for it. In the days and months and years that will follow this most extraordinary of happenings, the church will come to identify God in three persons – God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Maybe we find that helpful, maybe not. But irrespective of that, what the church can never do is take away the uncertainty, the mystery and the unexpectedness of God in whatever form. And two centuries later we will have such amazing unexpected and un sought encounters with God – just like these first disciples did when Jesus appeared in the locked room. In situations we find ourselves in, in times of joys and celebrations, and in times that feel more like living nightmares our God breaks through the locked doors and stands beside us. And in the midst of whatever we are feeling, offers us that most wonderful of gifts: ‘Peace be with you’.
Peace isn’t something our world is very good at! It would seem that our world gives peace - and takes it away - all too easily. How many places can we look at today and see how fragile peace is in this world. How often in the last few weeks have I switched on the news wondering whether this world was still at peace ……. yet even when the peace of the world is so fragile we can still have God’s peace in our hearts. For that peace that Jesus brought into that locked room is different. It lasts. It’s the shalom, peace that’s beyond our understanding, but capable of transforming our hearts, and freely offered to each one. What a precious gift!
This shalom was hard won and it’s very hard to escape from its bounds - maybe that’s just as well. Just as well for the disciples we read of in the Book of Acts, for they have a tough time ahead of them. Their master isn’t around in person to hold their hands - but the work has to continue. So the gift of peace is surely one of their handholds on what must be a rocky path. Just as well for us too, on our journey. For neither the journey of life nor the journey of faith will be plain sailing in this or any other place, in this or any other time. But the shalom remains constant for all times:
- for the times when everything is brilliantly shining, when life is going well, when we are thrilled, happy, radiating sunshine to those we encounter
- for the times when things are just ordinary, ticking over, nothing special or significant happening, just ordinary living
- and for the times when we are in the depths, when around us is blackness, sadness, pain.
For all these times, God offers us his shalom, and very often through unexpected happenings, ordinary people, chance encounters.
We’ve seen all of these things this morning. Followers who were in the depths, for whom life would never be the same again. Followers who had seen their risen Lord and who were excited. And one follower whose reaction, deep seated and heart felt was simply ‘My Lord and my God’. In those first days after his rising, Jesus walked with the people he loved in all their humanity. He accepted everything that was involved for them in being human. And that’s why he gifted them and us that most special peace. For when we know that peace within and around us, we can face whatever life hands out to us. We can face it even if we don’t think we can, even if we feel we’re not coping very well, even if we are in the depths.
One week ago it was important to proclaim the Lord to be risen. Perhaps it is even more important today, when the high of Easter Day is behind us, to be able to profess our faith in the risen Lord, a faith which is for all time, not just for special days. Isn’t that the wonder of what God offers each of us? A faith which brings with it a peace beyond our understanding. Ours is a faith which has sustained and will sustain us even in the dereliction of our particular Good Friday. Christ is indeed risen and walks before, beside, within us.
May we know the peace of Christ as we walk his way with joy.