John 20:19-31 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.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Reflection I have no idea if our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka who came together in three Christian churches to worship early Easter morning had any fear that they would be murdered for gathering to worship, peacefully celebrating their relationships with God and one another.
I have no idea if our sisters and brothers who came together for Friday Prayer just a bit more than a month ago in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, had any fear they would be murdered for gathering to worship, peacefully celebrating their relationships with Allah and one another.
I have no idea if seven months ago when our sisters and brothers assembled on the Sabbath morning in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg peacefully honoring their covenant relationship with God and one another had any fear they would be murdered.
The exterior appearance of peace was shattered in Sri Lanka, Christchruch and Pittsburg. Christians, Muslims and Jews alike were massacred for practicing their faith. Our reasonable and first impulse is, run, find an upstairs room where we can shutter the windows, lock the doors and keep evil out. But, like the apostles in our reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we cannot remain in hiding. “We must obey God rather than any human authority” that “gives strict orders not to teach” or practice an alternate reality revealed to us by Abraham, the father of all three traditions. We must continue to gather, worship, study and spread the good news that there is something greater than the evil perpetrated by misguided humans, and, regardless of what we call it, it is that in which we must put our faith.
Now it is evening of the first day of the week. Much has transpired to frustrate our faith and hollow out our hope. The tragedies we have witnessed are too dreadful for words. Our hands and feet and hearts are wounded, blood pours from our mouths where words fail to flow. Catastrophe is our companion… and then, in the midst of the darkest hour we hear the voice of our teacher echoing in our hearts “Peace be with you.” No matter the blood of his wounds is still fresh, Jesus’ voice is comforting. Like a fragrant cloud his breath infuses us,"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.” Jesus’ message is unequivocal. Peace is with us, and we are meant to extend it to others.
Crushed in the gloom of the locked upstairs room with the terrorized apostles, we are doubtful. “Jesus, what are you thinking? How can you promote peace after being nailed to a cross? How can you speak of peace when across the globe people of all three religions are purposely persecuted? What do you mean, peace be with you?”
Can you almost hear Jesus’ admonition? “Peace is not the absence of unmerited suffering. Peace is not the avoidance of bleeding wounds or the evasion of tragedy. Peace is holy Presence with us in the midst of all of it. See - put your finger here, deep into my wounds. Pain and trauma are real, they are inescapable. Still, we can choose peace right now because, like Abraham our forefather, we put our faith in God with us even when the promise of peace seems impossible.”
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