Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 04/15/2012

In the various accounts of the resurrection, the women flee the tomb in terror and amazement for they were afraid, when the women do tell the disciples that the tomb is empty or that they’ve seen Jesus, the disciples consider it an idle tale and don’t pay much attention, in the verses before those just read today, Mary Magdalene tells the disciples she has seen the Lord but rather than celebrate they remain in the house having locked themselves in. 

None of these are what you would call great expressions of faith and confidence in the news of the resurrection, yet the Christian tradition only remembers Thomas for his supposed lack of faith…Doubting Thomas is how he’ll forever be known and implied is the notion that you don’t want to be like him.  Every year we get this story on the Second Sunday of Easter, but for this year, let’s give Thomas a break.  When you look at the whole picture, his reaction to the news of the resurrection wasn’t a whole lot different from anyone else’s, so let’s leave him be, cut him some slack and consider something else.

How about Jesus?  Let’s consider him. This story is a resurrection appearance story, so let focus the one who appears, instead of Thomas.  Let’s focus on Jesus and consider what he says when he appears.  What he says is, “Peace be with you.”  In John’s gospel those are the first words spoken by the Risen Christ to the disciples.  “Peace be with you.”  Now, to be sure, on one level it’s just a word of greeting not a whole lot different from “Hi, how are you?” in our time.  Jews of Jesus’ time would greet one another with a word of peace, shalom; Muslims use the Arabic form of this to greet one another.  On the lips of Jesus though, this is more than just a “Hi, how are you?” greeting.  His words take on a different dimension, they take on added weight; they always do. 

First though, Jesus enters the room; the doors are locked, but somehow he is there and when Jesus is in the room, you pay attention.  When you read about certain historical figures, they have that kind of presence; George Washington is said to have had it so that when he showed up, he was the man and everyone knew it; he didn’t have to say anything.  Such people set the tone, they set the agenda, and for Jesus, this word of peace sets the starting point for his agenda.

For Jesus and for our understanding of him peace is a significant word.  It’s more than the absence of war or conflict although that’s part of it, and it also is more than an inner feeling of well being, although that’s part of it too.  In this context, the context of Jesus’ greeting, peace has to do with relationship.  It’s indicative of the kind of relationship Jesus has with the Father and however you understand that, you know their relationship is close.  There is unity and a singleness of commitment in their relationship and with this word to the disciples, Jesus is telling them that they are to have the same kind of unity and commitment in their relationship.  But again, it’s not just for the sake of a warm inner feeling; it’s not a “best friends forever” thing.  This greeting is more than that; it’s more than that because it’s for the sake of mission, it’s for the sake of being sent.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says to them.

Before being sent though, let’s think about this.  You know that  “Peace be with you” or some variation of that are words that we repeat and exchange with one another as part of worship.  The truth of it is that probably for most of us on most Sunday’s, for the most part it doesn’t represent much more than an intermission, a seventh inning stretch after the sermon. 

For many it’s probably not a very welcome intermission either; we Northern European, Scandinavian types just as soon dispense with it; but that’s too bad, because as a repetition of Jesus’ words, this greeting of peace is not an intermission nor is it just a time to have to awkwardly shake hands with people even though you’d rather not.  It’s an expression of confidence in our baptismal identity that joins us to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus; it’s a declaration of forgiveness and unity and not just with those we personally greet who might just be our family and other friends.  Symbolically we extend this greeting to everyone, even those we might not like all that much, even those we disagree with, even those not physically present. 

Some might say that “symbolically” is the operative word in what I just said because, they would say, the greeting doesn’t create peace.  After 2000 years of this proclamation of peace in Jesus’ name along with constant prayers for peace, conflict of many kinds on many levels continues to be prevalent.  Peace continues to be elusive.  That’s all true, but it doesn’t diminish the significance of these words.  Jesus’ greeting of peace creates an identity that defines us; it contributes to a vision that we can’t lose sight of because Jesus never lost sight of it.  Much of what Jesus did in his ministry was to envision an alternative to the vision of the empire.  In his many parables, that’s what he was doing as he described the Kingdom of God; he told stories and let people use their imagination.  In this resurrection greeting to his disciples he was still envisioning an alternative and he was calling on them to envision the same thing. 

Then and now, the worldly path to peace involved power and violence, eliminating those perceived as threats.  That’s the path that Jesus’ followers had wanted him to take.  We’re still trying to use power and violence to create peace despite pretty strong historical evidence that it doesn’t work.  You can’t simply eliminate everyone you disagree with.  So here’s Jesus, a victim of the empire’s power, a victim of efforts to eliminate him, in his resurrection revealing that those powers can’t prevail.  Here he is, still announcing a different reality from the one that had killed him.  His vision of peace overcomes the death dealing power and violence of this world; that’s what the resurrection tells us; but we doubt it.  We proclaim it but we doubt it and because of that, we perhaps are heirs of Thomas in ways that we hadn’t really thought about.

I said I was going to leave Thomas alone today, but I guess I’m not, because maybe some of his refusal to believe had to do with his inability to accept the alternative vision of Jesus anymore, his inability to believe anything about Jesus after what had happened.  Jesus had talked about peace and forgiveness and love one another and what had it gotten him?  A cross. 

One of the things we’re never told in this story is why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared to them.  One can only speculate, but maybe he was just disillusioned with the whole deal, not unlike how we can get when we look around and see that Jesus’ vision of peace doesn’t seem any closer to reality than it ever has.  Maybe in his disillusionment, Thomas just needed to get away from the others for awhile, which would be perfectly understandable.  What Thomas finds though, is that Jesus shows up in those moments of disillusionment to again announce “Peace be with you.”  Jesus keeps coming back because his “Peace be with you,” is about mission, it’s about being sent into the world as his messengers.

Working for peace though can be a cause for doubt and disillusionment.  Praying for peace can be a cause for doubt and disillusionment.  That’s why the vision of peace that Jesus creates and proclaims is so important.  The powers of this world want to wear you down; they want to wear you down so that you can’t even imagine peace or you can only imagine in on their violent terms.  But then Jesus enters the locked doors of our world and speaks yet another word of peace against the circumstances that overwhelm us.  His wounds are visible, but he has prevailed and his word is still “Peace be with you.”

His words push us out from behind closed and locked doors because the peace he offers is not just a warm feeling for those inside and it’s not just a word about the peace of heaven either; it’s a word and a peace that is about now.  Jesus’ word unlocks the doors and as those sent from those doors, we carry his words and his vision out to a world that doesn’t believe, a world that would say that such peaceful relationships are impossible.   But we won’t let go of the vision because it didn’t die with Jesus, it rose to new life with him and we are his witnesses.

Tangible evidence of the vision can be hard to find; the doubt and disillusionment of Thomas is easy to understand; but that just makes the work of proclaiming Jesus’ words even more important.  “Peace be with you,” is Jesus’ vision for the world.  He speaks these words for our sake and empowered by him, we repeat them, we act on them, for our sake and for the sake of the world.

Doubt and disillusionment will still come back and lock our doors, but Jesus will find a way in.  He will find a way in and he will find us and his words will be the same.  “Peace be with you.”

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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