The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s160g10 Second Sunday of Easter 11/4/2010
'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' John 20.21
It is lovely to hear the initial greeting of the risen Christ to the disciples: 'Peace'. Peace is something we crave, we pray for constantly for ourselves and for others, and we conclude that God is all about peace especially our peace. Anything that disturbs the equilibrium we think is not of God. But we need to be careful for immediately Jesus says: 'Peace' he immediately sends them away.
Now if we were the disciples meeting the risen Jesus for the first time, we would at least expect some explanation, perhaps an account of his death and resurrection. Those who have 'near-death' experiences talk of lights at the end of a tunnel and like it was looking down on those around who were providing medical assistance. He might well have provided a useful account of heaven, hell or God. For the more scripturally bound, they might expect Jesus to again refer to passages from the Old Covenant that point to his resurrection. There might have been a word of apology for having put the disciples what they had been through, or some word of why it was necessary. No, Jesus says: 'Peace', and then 'Go!'
So I conclude that neither did the risen Christ want them to worship him. They were to go to others. It was not the fact of the resurrection that was important, the most important thing was for them to go, to go to others.
During Holy Week I attended the Chrism Mass in the diocese of Christchurch New Zealand, and during the service I was reminded of the four fold actions of Jesus at the last supper he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it away. The first three of these are but a prelude to that which is the most important thing; that it was given away to others. It is ironic that the preoccupation of the church has for centuries been on who we can't possibly give the sacrament of holy communion to, once it has been taken, blessed and broken. And it struck me that it is a four-fold action and we can't leave bits out like not giving it away freely. If we don't give the communion away it is not communion. On the other hand, some people feel called and decide that they will set up their own community of followers with no outside authorization. In the Anglican Church people who feel called are taken from ordinary society for a period of training for ministry; they are ordained, blessed for the work; and often they are broken by the work for the work is not for the magnification of the person of the minister or the priest, but the strengthening and upholding of others.
And the disciples were told to go with nothing, except the word of peace the risen Christ has said ringing in their ears. Peace is not something that we can keep to ourselves, or at least the peace of God. It is never merely a personal possession. It is hardly co-incidental that in all liturgies that I have experienced, the command to depart is preceded by the blessing most often beginning: 'The peace of God which passes all understanding ..' We are to take the peace of God to others.
Sadly, of course, the church has more often taken rules and regulations about how people ought to live their lives and come to church and what they should believe. They have been particularly concerned about when and with whom people could show their intimate affections. They have shown people how to live peaceful lives by conforming to a particular set of principles otherwise the people of the church would make life hell for them both in this life and the next!
Jesus sends the disciples away! It is essentially the first thing Jesus does. Indeed it could be said that the whole purpose of the Cross was to stop the disciples focusing on Jesus and get their eyes set on others, the others he commanded them to love. This morning I heard again the words of Jesus to Mary: 'Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." ' (John 20.17). And I suddenly thought how I have always thought that the resurrection was the whole point of it. No, the resurrection was an ever so brief set of occurences to get the disciples off their backsides and get them to get on with it. Jesus isn't risen to have people all cluttering around him as if he is something remarkable. He wants us to be out and about doing useful things for others. Jesus isn't impressed with huge gatherings of people worshipping him. Yet for how long has the church proclaimed that the first thing we are to do as Christians is to worship Jesus?
The peace of God did not mean the disciples had arrived, that they could remain where they were, either physically or theologically. They were sent out, for they had to find that the same peace bestowed on them applied as equally to others as it did to them both in other places (not just Jerusalem) and other cultures (not just the ancient people of God). St Peter had to realize, through a long and complicated story recounted in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, that the risen Jesus demanded that he accept Gentiles on the same terms as Jews. For all his time with Jesus, for all being 'the' spokesperson for the twelve, for all his acknowledgement of Jesus as the messiah (and subsequently being called 'Satan'), for all his devotion, denial and restoration he still had more to learn about the wideness of God's mercy. Sadly it seems many 'christians' come to the Lord and then they expect others to come to God their way, when the scriptural evidence is that the Lord expects disciples to follow the way of Jesus and go to others with peace as they are.
I have said before that the 'in' word for some 'christians' is the word 'challenge' which seems to have superceded the command to love, on what scriptural basis I have no idea.
We are told to go, and to go with peace in our hearts and peace to share with others.
I suspect that by far the majority of sermons on this passage from John focus on doubting Thomas and the assurance that Christ is risen. But I would point out that Jesus didn't show the disciples his hands and his side and say to the disciples: 'Go and convince everyone else that I have risen from the dead' but go in 'peace'. We don't have to convince anyone of anything, we can let the risen Christ do that if we actually believe that he is risen as we proclaim. I have no doubt whatsoever if we actually did 'go in peace' rather than go and dispute with people who have far more scientific expertise than ourselves, people like Professor Richard Dawkins might actually come to believe. We also wouldn't need to have people like Bishop Jack Spong spending his life showing us how unhelpful we are being! And how we ever so subtly but ever so effectively divert the command of Jesus to us to go into something that others must do believe like us and in the name of our idol that we believe is God?
We are given as gifts to one another. It is us who are the gifts, not the baggage of a particular faith or set of moral codes that we clutter our lives up with and hide behind. But the gift is us and our peace. When we are truly at peace with ourselves then automatically we accept others as they are too. When we are not justifying ourselves, our actions or beliefs, then we allow others not to justify themselves, their actions and beliefs.
And not having to justify ourselves to others seems an easy way to live life. It is an enlightened way of life and enlightens others as well. We might even term it a risen life ourselves, as we rise above the petty squabbles (theological and political) that abound.
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