The Second Sunday After Easter, April 28, 2019

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Rev. 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
From the Gospel according to John, (Jesus said) “Peace be with you” I speak to you in the Name of God, our Father and Creator; God, the risen Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, Amen.

     As many of you are aware, Rev. Anna typically preaches on the final Sunday of each month. And that schedule has worked well for us. But, given that I will be gone for three months after next Sunday’s worship services, it seemed prudent that she take some time off now with her family. For the truth is, she’s not likely to have a day off for quite some time. So, the schedule changed for today. Surprise!

     The great news about that surprise is that I get to deliver my “farewell” sermon a week early and that sermon begins with the old adage, “Seeing is believing.” Whenever I hear that phrase, I am reminded of a Seminary Professor known for his incredible wit. When anyone asked him, “Do you believe in infant baptism?” Without skipping a beat, he would reply, “Believe in it? I’ve seen it!”  As funny as that response is, “seeing is believing” is the approach of many when lending any sense of credibility to the things of God. Some people need signs and wonders in order to believe. And I have to admit that it is a lot easier to believe in something if we can actually see it with our own eyes.

     Our Gospel lesson this morning offers a different saying altogether. There we hear, not “seeing is believing” but rather “believing is a blessing.” And like all things in scripture, believing has consequences for Christians in how we choose to live and witness to our faith.

     Now, I know that today’s gospel lesson is often understood simply as Jesus chastising poor “Doubting Thomas” for his lack of faith. But this lesson is so much deeper than that. In fact, it’s not about doubt at all. It is about one of the greatest gifts that comes through faith; that comes through believing. And that gift is the blessing of reconciliation.

     Let’s look at this story carefully. The disciples have seen Jesus betrayed, crucified and buried. They are terrified and have hidden themselves away, barred the door, and are wondering what to do now? They wonder, Are we next? Are we finished, too? 

I am sure that there were some nasty and hateful words thrown at each other in that room. It is human nature to start sniping at one another when things don’t go as planned, or the way we wanted them to unfold. I picture these guys pointing fingers and blaming each other and, especially chastising Peter for having denied even knowing Jesus although all of them, except for John, had run away. In the midst of their fears, bewilderment and yes, sniping, Jesus suddenly appears. But he doesn’t say, “Surprise. It’s me!” No, instead he appears saying, “Peace be with you.” What an odd thing to say.

I say “odd” because the reality is, if anyone should be really angry with the disciples, it is Jesus. “Why didn’t you stay awake when I asked you? Why did you run away? Why didn’t you speak up for me?” But, instead, he says, “Peace be with you.” No guilt trip, no chastising. No anger or disappointment about things past just “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them the very signs of their guilt and duplicity in his death – remember those who need signs to prove something? Well, Jesus offers proof and yet, again, he simply says “Peace be with you.” The Greek word for “peace” here is not a passive absence of conflict. It is an action word meaning that peace with one another is something we must choose to offer, accept and then foster. In other words, we have to work at it. And when we choose to be at peace, the door is opened for reconciliation.

And what unfolds in this story is an affirmation that, as far as Jesus is concerned, all is forgiven. So, it is time for the disciples to move forward and stop blaming each other. Choose to be at peace not only with God, but with each other and in so doing you will know the visible blessing of reconciliation.

     That, friends, is what our “Passing of the Peace” is about on Sunday mornings. The little handshake and greeting to one another “The peace of the Lord be always with you” is more than a “Hi there. Hello. How are the kids? Join us for Mahjong on Thursday.” That aint it at all! When we offer the peace on Sunday mornings, we are quoting this very passage from John’s gospel. And in quoting it we are affirming that we believe that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been reconciled to God and are at peace with God by faith in Christ. And as followers of Christ, we must be a peace with, and reconciled to, each other.

The truth is, unless we are reconciled and at peace with one another, we cannot come to this Altar and truly receive the risen Christ. Oh sure, we can come up and have a sip of wine and that piece of cardboard called “bread.” But it is not sacramental if our hearts and minds are not in the right place, if we are not at peace and reconciled to God and each other.

     Our story moves on. Having chosen to be reconciled with each other, now the disciples are ready for some new work of God within them. Only when they have chosen peace and reconciliation does Jesus breathe on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And as this breath of God is breathed into them, they who were once bewildered and afraid are suddenly empowered and ready to go forth. That is one of the wonderful blessings about reconciliation and peace with God and neighbor. God is always doing new things. Just as the resurrection of Christ brought about an end to our striving for redemption and offered a new way of life marked by love for God and love for neighbor, so being at peace and being reconciled to God and one another puts an end to any past squabbling and sends us forth into mission and service together.

     Now, Thomas enters the story. And what happens? Thomas is very clear about what he needs in order to believe. And Jesus gracefully meets those needs, offering himself just as he is to Thomas, and by that offering Thomas makes his profession of faith. Yes, as one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas should have been able to believe the good news without having to see and touch just as the other disciples should have been able to believe by simply hearing the news of the resurrection when Mary burst in and told them about it. But that is not the point here. Jesus has the grace to offer hope and promise even in the face of doubt and disbelief. That is the blessing of choosing to be at peace; the blessing of choosing reconciliation.

    Then what happens? Jesus sends his disciples to be reconcilers themselves as peacemakers and healers, as people willing to forgive and proclaim the good news of the gospel. Jesus commissions them just as he commissions us still today, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” Jesus sends them, sends us, to be visible witnesses to the gospel.

See, it is a lot easier for us to think of Church as a place we go to instead of a place where we are sent from. So, (if we truly take our Lord’s words seriously) perhaps we should take a few minutes at the beginning of every day and consider that when we left here on Sunday we were being sent … sent out into the world to love without limits: sent to love God with all our heart, soul, body, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Paraphrase of commentary by The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, former Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis).

     Faith in the risen Lord, beloved, goes far beyond personal redemption, far beyond our own needs and desires. The resurrected Christ sends us forth to love as he has loved us, to be reconciled to our neighbor just as we, in Christ, have been reconciled with and to God. And I suggest this morning that if we will dare to believe it when we say to one another, in spite of our differences and resentments, our letdowns and disappointments, “Peace be with you”, those doors of our own creation - doors that bar the way to reconciliation and peace will be blown open wide. And, just like Peter affirmed in today’s reading from Acts, and John in the Revelation affirmed, (see, I didn’t even have time to get to those scripture lessons) our very lives will become visible signs of the resurrected Christ; our lives will become visible witnesses to God’s grace and redemption: Visible reminders of God’s love that beckons all to come, touch and embrace our Lord.

    Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” May God grant us the grace to not only say those words, but live them, share them and be them, today and always. Amen.