April 8, 2018 “Peace be With You”, by Pastor Martha download here: April 8, 2018
When 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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This Scripture passage is a very personal one for me. It has become a part of my own story, or rather, my story became a part of this story. This story helped me recognize resurrection in my own life. Isn’t that what stories are for? Isn’t that why we tell our stories?
It’s a simple enough story. There are three parts to it. Fear, peace and forgiveness.
First there was fear. It’s the first day of the week. For Jews that would be Sunday, the day after the sabbath. This is the same day that Mary encounters the risen Jesus at the empty tomb and runs to tell the others, who keep running. By the end of the day, instead of celebrating, the disciples are hiding. They are afraid. We hear they are hiding in a house behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.”
Let’s stop right there. This phrase has been misused and misunderstood as an excuse for anti-Semitism for far too long. It is VERY important to remember that this was written in a Jewish context. The disciples WERE Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Most of the players in the story were Jews. The disciples are clearly not afraid of ALL Jews. The ARE afraid of particular Jewish authorities that were responsible for the death of Jesus. And now that Jesus is alive, no telling who they will go after.
Second, Jesus APPEARS to them. If they weren’t already afraid, wouldn’t this put them over the edge? The doors are locked, but somehow he appears. Is he a ghost? Does he walk through the walls?? And yet, if he were a ghost, how could he show them the wounds in his side and in his hands? How could he breathe on them?
But he does all these things. And instead of fear, what the disciples feel is PEACE. He breathes on them. He fills them with a sense of peace they will never forget. He gives them the Holy Spirit.
And last but not least, he gives them the power to forgive and sends them forth to do just that.
The power to forgive? Isn’t that something only God can do?
But he gives it to them. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
There’s a super-power if ever there was one! And of course by giving these things to them, he is giving these things to us.
Last time this passage came up, one of you spoke to me after the service and said the second part of that verse bothered you. “if you retains the sins of any, they are retained.”
Here’s my take on that. If we are unable to forgive someone, the sin that is retained is not in them, but in us. God has already set them other free. But to be unwilling to forgive is like drinking the rat poison and expecting the rat to die. It now lives in us.
A lot happens in these few verses. It is as though making sense of what happened that first Easter was immediately revealed. It helps to remember that the gospel account wasn’t written until several decades after the death of Jesus.
By that time, meaning had been made and passed on.
It’s like people who have been in recovery for a very long time who can sum it up by saying, “I was powerless over my drinking. A power greater than myself restored me to sanity. Now I go out and bring the message to others who are suffering.”
It takes a long time to be able to tell a story that short. There are so many things we see only in retrospect.
Sometimes our own recovery stories unfold like that. I experienced resurrection one day after Easter, on April 12, 1993. It would take me years to be able to put it into words and then it came out as a poem.
Much later I would
Be able to tell you
That it was Jesus
Who had come
Lifted me in his arms
Of the quicksand of my life
And carried me to safety.
Later still I would hear
The words the same Jesus
Spoke to his beloved friends
Behind closed doors
The day after Easter
“My peace I give to you.”
But on the end of that Easter Sunday
In April of 1993
As day turned into evening
And my Lenten resolve
To quit drinking
Had not endured
Even one day
Of the last forty
All I could have told you was
That after all the guests had gone
And I was alone in the house,
As I sat on my bed
Staring out the window
I was able to set my glass
Of half-drunk wine
On the wooden sill
And leave it there, unfinished
And that on the day after Easter
When I awoke
My soul was quenched
Like Mary at the tomb, I didn’t recognize resurrection at first, but only in retrospect and only as I lived it one day at a time.
The first sign was probably leaving wine in the glass on the windowsill.
That had never happened before, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. The next day was Monday, but instead of the daily hangover, I woke with a deep peace I had never known. Like tasting, touching, smelling, seeing—it was as if I had been given another sense.
I no longer needed to drink. Of course I didn’t trust the feeling, but on that Monday, I didn’t drink. I didn’t drink Tues, Wed, Thurs or even Fri, when I went out with friends.
I was going absolutely bonkers inside, but I wasn’t telling anybody. I didn’t trust myself, but the peace didn’t leave.
It was only in retrospect and years later, that I heard this passage and recognized it as what had happened for me. Instead of walking through a wall, I felt that Jesus had bent down, picked me up in his arms (not over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes) and carried me out the wreckage of my disease. He carried me for a long time before setting me down on solid ground.
That’s why we are here. To tell the story. To remind each other that there is a power greater than ourselves…greater than any addiction…greater than grief and despair….greater even than death.
And that just when we think winter will never end, resurrection happens!