Lectionary blog for April 23
Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16;
1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
I remember the first time I “went away.” It was 1972 and I was going away to college. My family was very laid back about such occasions and there was no special dinner or party. If I remember correctly, I milked the cow as usual that morning, worked in the field with Daddy until noon, then went to the house for lunch. I took a shower, loaded my box of books and my laundry basket full of clothes in the back seat of the car and drove off to school an hour away.
But I did receive a few “going away” presents. Daddy handed me $10, the first time I remember him giving me money that I had not had to earn. Mama gave me a couple of shirts she got on sale. And a relative who was a teacher gave me a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. I spent the money on gas and wore out the shirts, but I still have the dictionary, and it is always near my desk. The best going-away presents serve two purposes. They are a link to our past and they propel us into the future. Today’s Gospel lesson is about going-away presents—but in this case, the gift-giving is done in reverse; the one going away gives the presents.
As the disciples gather in their hide-away room, they are a very disturbed, confused and fearful community. The events of the last week have overwhelmed them; their brains and their bodies are on emotional overload; they are full of fear. The Greek word here is “phobon,” from which we get the English word “phobia.” A phobia is an irrational and unthinking fear; it is emotional terror. These people are afraid of their own shadows, they are seeing monsters in the closets and boogie bears under the bed. Well, not exactly irrational and unthinking. Their world has been turned upside down and inside out. They left their families and their jobs, their lives and their livelihoods, to follow this charismatic healer/preacher. And now this glorious revolution has come to a screeching halt; the wheels have come off the kingdom of God parade; the movement has collapsed; all is in disarray. And Jesus, the risen Christ, comes into that locked room with going-away presents. Jesus gives them what they need to get up and get going again.
The first words out of his mouth are “Peace be with you.” This greeting is repeated three times in our lesson. Jesus comes into the midst of all this fear and distrust and gives his followers the gift of being at peace with themselves and the world. This peace is a most mysterious thing, Paul calls it “the peace that passes all understanding.” The first three petitions of the kyrie start with “In peace … .” Between the prayers and the communion, we pass the peace. The post-communion canticle begins “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace … .” The pastoral blessing begins “The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace … . ” The dismissal says “Go in peace.” This is not our peace, not our love, not our goodwill, not our friendliness, not our serenity; in those moments, we are sharing with one another the peace that Christ has given to us, the same peace that Jesus gave to his disciples as a going-away present.
After Jesus comforts the disciples, after he calms their fear with his peace, he gives these directionless people a purpose, a reason to keep on going. When, in verse 21, he says to them, “As the father has sent me, even so I send you,” Jesus is letting them know that the mission continues. Jesus comes to this disheartened and directionless group and gives them a reason for living. He defines for them a purpose, lays out for them their future, sets in front of them their mission.
When Jesus shows them his wounds, it is not just a way of identifying himself, not just a way of proving to them that it really is him. NO! In showing them his wounds, his scars, Jesus is telling them who they are, and who they are to be. Suddenly, things he said began to make sense. Things like “take up your cross” and “losing one’s life for my sake.” Things that seemed so peculiar when he said them begin to shout out their meaning as the disciples stare at his wounds. “Now I get it, now I understand. We are invited to serve the world; we are invited to live for the world; we are invited to die for the world if necessary, because that’s what Jesus did.”
Jesus came into their midst and gave them peace and gave them a purpose, and then he provided what they needed for their journey, the Holy Spirit. Christ provides what is needed to fulfill the purpose given us. That is not the same thing as giving us power. The promise is that the Holy Spirit will work through our sometimes feeble efforts to accomplish God’s will in the world. Look to Christ on the cross, this was not an exercise of power but a demonstration of humility and obedience and faith. God’s promise is to fill us with the Holy Spirit, to provide for us that which we need to do what we are called to do.
Look at Peter. On Good Friday, we read about how Peter fearfully denied Jesus three times, scared to death of a serving girl. In today’s lesson from Acts we see Peter preaching on the streets of Jerusalem, afraid of no one.
Look at these disciples, huddled behind closed doors. Then look what happened next: Of the 12 disciples known as the apostles, the “sent ones”—all went to the far corners of the known world, bravely spreading and preaching the gospel. Only one died a natural death. The rest were tortured to death. Take up your cross indeed.
What made the difference? What changed them? The risen Christ breathed on them the Holy Spirit, providing them with the faith and courage to live a life devoted to God’s will and God’s way in the world. The risen Christ comes to us today, comes into our locked rooms filled with fear and confusion, comes to us with the healing words and sure promises he had for the disciples. Jesus comes and calms our fears with God’s peace. Jesus comes and shows us the way to live out God’s purpose in the world. Jesus comes and breathes into our lives the Holy Spirit, providing us all we need to live a life of faith.
Amen and amen.