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 [the leaders who handed Jesus over to the Romans] , Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
After Jesus was crucified, his disciples were in hiding, afraid of what might happen next. If Jesus, their beloved rabbi and leader, the one with all those miraculous spiritual powers, had been tortured and killed, it could happen to them.
I imagine they were confused, crushed with disappointment, and experiencing the intense emotions of grieving. How could this happen? All those miracles, their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed one of God–all that goodness destroyed by the Romans who put him to death! And their own religious leaders, who had also condemned Jesus of blasphemy. Would they also turn on Jesus’ disciples?
Surely they had feelings of remorse and guilt. After all, they had run away when their friend needed them most. They had given in to fear, even though their Lord had told them repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.” What kind of followers were they, insisting to Jesus’ face that they would stand by him, even to the death, and then, instead, immediately fleeing when the going got tough? Peter, “first among equals” or the “prime” apostle, even lied when questioned about his association with Jesus.
When the Risen Lord appears to this disloyal group for the first time after his death, what does he say? If he were a married person, talking to his or her spouse, he might have said, “Told you so! I knew you would leave me when things got rough.”
If Jesus were a politician, he might have fired the disciples from their managerial posts. If Jesus were like certain religious leaders, he might have assigned the apostles a penance, banned them from teaching, or withheld communion. After all, most the apostles abandoned Jesus after he was arrested. (We only hear of John, Jesus’ mother, and other women followers standing by Jesus as he suffered on the cross.)
But the Lord Jesus is not like us sinners. He is not self-centered or self-righteous. In relationships, Jesus does not grab at power over others. He has no need to be a superstar, dictator, or spiritual bully.
When he reappears to them after his death, the first words Jesus says to them are “Peace be with you.” This peace is the inner peace that only God can give. It is not a peace based on owning a lot of material possessions, being wealthy, having a sexy appearance, belonging to the winning political group, or even forming the perfect liturgical translation. Christ’s peace is a gift of the Spirit, given freely with love.
The peace that Christ is offered them–and offers us–is not only peace within each soul, but also peace among people, creating spiritual networks of loving relationships. The Greek word in this passage of John’s gospel is not merely about the absence of disturbance or conflict. It is a word that probably is from the root word that means “to join.” Christ desires that we be joined together in relationships of love. The peace Christ wants is one of harmony among people, which is what he prayed for just prior to his death, that all may be one, not one in physical appearance, worship style, culture, or dogma, but one in the Spirit, one in the Lord.
When Christ wishes the disciples peace, he is offering it to them without strings attached. The Risen Lord loves all people, sinners or so-called religious. If we would be his followers, we must do the same.
Until next time, Amen!
Note: Many thanks to my hubby, Terry McCarty, for the photographs in this post. He took them this past month at the Como Park Conservatory in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Copyright 2011, Terry McCarty. All rights reserved.