Sermon Seeds: Peace Be With You
Sunday, April 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter | Year A
(Liturgical Color: White)
Listen to the Podcast
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 • Psalm 16 • 1 Peter 1:3-9 • John 20:19-31
Peace Be With You
Unfailing Love (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
The story continues on the day of the Resurrection as more disciples encounter Jesus. The ones who remained together in isolation but closed off from the world were immobilized by fear. Perhaps the confluence of so many happenings and dramatic shifts in such a short period of time overwhelmed them. They did not know what to do so they sat with their fear. It seemed the safe–and passive–choice. The active ones (Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the other disciple) had already met Jesus that morning and are absent from (or at least silent in) this part of the story.
Jesus shows up in the middle of their fear, moves past closed doors, and greets them with the words, “Peace Be With You.” They do not immediately recognize him; there’s something about Jesus in his resurrected body that is not quite recognizable. Recall that it was not until he called her by name that Mary Magdalene knew that Jesus was the one before her. This time, no names are spoken, but there are marks of identity in the passage. Rather than Jesus acknowledging them in this way, he reveals evidence of his identity. He displays his scars to them. It’s worth noting that he does this without prompting. He knows they don’t recognize him, but they will connect the remnants of his wounds with the torture of his passion.
Isn’t it interesting that it is often easier to accept the reminders of an awful past than the promise of a hopeful future?
Still, when they recognize him, they become overjoyed. Jesus repeats his greeting and restarts the encounter now that they are clear on his identity. This signifies that this imperative statement is more than a graceful way of saying hello. Perhaps, it’s a simple blessing or a gift. Or, it could be a command. Maybe these words encompass all three. His next words offer a clue, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” This seems to be a commissioning. As soon as Jesus shows up, he sends his disciples out. His initial call to follow him entails breaking through barriers to the world not erecting them. His presence serves as demonstration and reminder that their work is not finished but just beginning.
He breathes on them and issues another imperative: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Multiple meanings may be derived from this statement as well. Is he offering a gift, a blessing, or a command? Again, the likely explanation is all three at one. The Holy Spirit as the abiding companionship of God is a gift beyond measure. That presence fulfills the covenantal promise in a new way. At the same time, there is an implied responsibility of hospitality, discipleship, and authority in Jesus’ words. Receiving Spirit means following Her as they followed Him. It also confers power and authority to the disciples as represented by the brief discussion of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, still in the wonder of his resurrection, begins the transition to the next phase of the ministry of the gospel.
It’s appropriate that Thomas then enters the narrative. Of all the gospel accounts, John engages with symbolism the most. His account is marked and organized by the seven signs of Jesus as well as the seven “I am” statements. His emphasis on the divinity of Christ influences not only his treatment of the ministry of Jesus, it also impacts his portrayal of the other gospel characters. Thomas holds a particular importance in the Johannine account:
Thomas appears four times within the narrative framework of the Fourth Gospel (see Jn 11:16; 14:5; 20:24–28; 21:2). His presence in the Gospel introduces some of the strategic transitions to the macro-narrative structure (see Skinner 2009:43). The following discussions are some of the crucial moments introduced through the entry of Thomas: firstly, Thomas’ character is brought to the foreground towards the close of Jesus’ public ministry, where a transition is in view from Lazarus’ death and raising to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Jn 11:16)1; secondly, he appears as a significant interlocutor engaged in a dialogue so that Jesus’ identity as ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ may be revealed to the disciples during his private ministry (Jn 14:5–6); thirdly, Thomas’ character appears towards the climax of the Book of Glory (Jn 13:1–20:31) as he is instrumental in revealing the identity of Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ (Jn 20:24–29); and fourthly, he appears as one of the seven disciples during the post-resurrection context in Galilee (Jn 21:2). Although Thomas’ character is absent at the beginning of the Gospel, his presence is significantly noticeable in the above-stated transitions. The narrator orchestrates the extended story of the Gospel with a view of Thomas at the transitions.
Rather than being characterized as “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple might be better understood as “Transitional Thomas.” In this account, the other disciples share the details of their experience with Thomas, but he does not want their testimony, he desires the same experience. In isolation, his statement of guarding his belief until he receives evidence supports the view of him as doubtful. Of course, every disciple was doubtful and disbelieving until they weren’t. He is not asking for more than they received without asking or without recognizing Jesus for themselves.
When Jesus shows up for Thomas, it’s clear that this moment is for Thomas, and Jesus complies with his requests without condemnation. As Jesus remarks that, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe,” he is not referring to the other disciples, but is noting the transition to a time when his physical, evidentiary presence will not be available. The gospel writer confirms this with the commentary, “But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”
Thomas stands in for all of us without the benefit of firsthand experience of the transcendent power of Christ. The encounter they share provides a model for how to search for proof. Thomas states his need; then, Jesus shows up to meet that need. This was a divine moment of “show and tell,” in which Jesus is both narrator and demonstration. In the future, it will be the disciples who will not only tell the good news, they will be charged to show it. The Spirit will be their new guide and companion—as well as ours—in this ministry:
The Spirit does not put us on autopilot. God works with us. We are an important part of the equation. We are not the most important part of the equation. But Christian discipleship is an important way in which God loves the world, so important that God sends the spirit of Christ to be within us.
This is not the first time that Jesus has offered peace or the Holy Spirit to the disciples with a dual emphasis on belief and their continuing his ministry. He did so on the other side of the passion:
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to 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. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.John 14:25–29
In the focus narrative, Jesus utters the words, “Peace be with you” three times. In the scripture just referenced, he frames peace not as a feeling or even a state of being but as a tangible possession that may be transferred from one to another. It’s not the world’s peace that he holds or offers however. The peace of Christ is the peace of God. It’s the harmony in the diversity of creation. It’s word made flesh. It’s the healing of the sick and grace extended to those living in shame. It’s the liberation and commissioning of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It’s the Holy One washing their feet at a meal. It’s the breaking of bread and pouring of cup. Christ’s peace is the kindom of God on earth as the Creator intended all along. It’s available as a gift and a responsibility—to be both received and given. That is the ministry of the disciples, then and now—to be holders, instruments, and agents of God’s peace in the world.
Peace be with you.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“When Great Trees Fall”
By Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
Read the full poem here: https://poems.com/poem/when-great-trees-fall/
For Further Reflection
“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it is…at last, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away…” ― Virginia Woolf
“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” ― John Lennon
Thomaskutty, Johnson. “Characterisation of Thomas in the Fourth Gospel.” HTS Theological Studies 76, no. 1(2020): 1–8.
Thompson, Casey. “Between Text and Sermon: John 20:19-23.” Interpretation 68, no. 2 (April 2014): 187–89.
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Invite the congregation to identify a collective scar that reflects a healed wound and give thanks for both the healing and the opportunity that was revealed after the healing. (Example: A church fire that led to a more accessible space.)
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 • Psalm 16 • 1 Peter 1:3-9 • John 20:19-31
Find the full text here: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=40