Scripture Readings: Acts 4:32–35 | Psalm 133 | 1 John 1:1–2:2 | John 20:19–31
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
Holy Week is now behind us. The light of Easter has dawned, and God’s New Creation has been brought to life in the Risen Christ, inviting us to receive all that comes along with it. Today, the second Sunday of Easter one aspect of God’s re-Creation in Christ stands out for us to contemplate, as well as to take part in: Peace.
God’s gracious gift of peace.
What a precious thing peace is; so often sought and longed for, and always so sorely needed. Our Psalm today written centuries before the Resurrection of Jesus, used holy, sacred imagery to talk of its significance.
“Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.”
The anointing with oil was one of the ways that Israel’s priests, and High Priests like Aaron, the brother of Moses, were consecrated… set apart to stand before the Living God on behalf of the people, and teaching them to live God’s ways together in the world. The Psalmist poetically connects this priestly calling and role with kindred living together in harmony and peace. But today in our reading from Acts, we hear the dream of this poem coming to life in the light of the Resurrection.
After the events of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who believed that Jesus is Risen, something remarkable happened: they actually lived together in peace. They “were of one heart and soul”, we are told, holding all things in common. Caring for one another to the point that none of them was in need. Imagine this: over 3,000 Israelites, gathered from all over the Roman world, were living in unity together because of their newfound faith in the Risen Lord. What a wonderful fulfillment of God’s rescue mission in motion! How can we share in this kind of living sign of God’s peace at work in the world? How can broken, messed up people really live together in peace?
The Good News, not only for you and I, but for the whole Church and the wider world, is that this is God’s gift to us in the reality of the Resurrection: real reconciliation and peace is possible through the life of the Risen Lord.
In our reading today from the Gospel of John, we are given a glimpse into that startling reunion between Christ and His frightened disciples. Confused and concerned by the death of their Lord, and the strange news from Mary Magdalene, the disciples had locked themselves away. But that didn’t stop Jesus from finding them, and offering these words: “Peace be with you.”
This first meeting could have taken a whole different direction. After all, despite all their words of commitment, these men had all deserted their Lord. Though John tells us that one of them found the nerve to not look away while Christ hung on the cross, they had all fled while He alone suffered. In the end, they had all abandoned Him to die. Jesus could have arrived in their midst, and condemned them all for their unfaithfulness… but instead He comes announcing and offering them peace. Union, harmony… reconciliation. Offered unexpectedly as a gracious gift.
For Israelites, like the first disciples, there was one place where this kind of peace was found: the Temple of God in Jerusalem was where amends were made… where peace between humans and the Living God was offered and received. Sacrifices were made there to atone for the sins and failures of the people. And the priests alone were the ones who were able to announce God’s forgiveness and peace.
Of course, we know that Jesus was doing this kind of thing long before His crucifixion… in fact, offering forgiveness to sinners was one of the reasons the chief priests and the temple leaders hated Him. But something different is going on in light of His Resurrection. The crucified and Risen Jesus has accomplished, and offers something new: forgiveness and peace, atonement made possible through His own blood.
In the letter of First John, which we heard today, Jesus is portrayed as the perfect sacrifice, renewing fellowship, unity, and peace, between us sinners and God by cleansing us from all sin with His own redeeming blood. But He’s also portrayed as our perfect High Priest; the One who stands before the LORD on behalf of humanity as our advocate, interceding for us, and empowering us to live God’s way in the world. Israel’s Temple, sacrifices, and priesthood, are all pointing us to Jesus, and they all find their fulfillment in the reality His resurrection makes possible: reconciliation, union, peace between God and sinners like us. Jesus, the Son of God gave up His life on the cross to make atonement for the whole world, and He lives again as serves as our eternal Advocate… pleading for us, and praying for us, even when we stumble into sin… offering God’s forgiveness, to all who trust in Him.
We usually stop right here, with the announcement of this Good News that Jesus has died to reconcile us to God, once and for all. But this is precisely not the end, this is the New Beginning… this is God’s New Creation at work even now among us, and for His messed up world.
Back to that first Easter, what does the Risen Lord do immediately after pronouncing peace to His bewildered disciples? He gives them all a mission… a share in His mission. “As the Father sent Me, so I send you...” Jesus says to them, and then He breathes God’s Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that was at work in Him, into them, and says these curious words: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What is all this about? What is going on???
In a word, we’re seeing the fulfillment of God’s plan for His people Israel: That though the whole earth belongs to God, His covenant people were to be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6), sharing in the fellowship of the Living God… living together in the light of His holy love… and making His goodness and mercy known to all people everywhere. They were to stand before God on behalf of the nations, that the LORD’s forgiveness and peace might be shared by everyone. They were to be the means by which God’s ways would be known in the world… and though this mission was taken up and completed by Jesus, the faithful and true Israelite, Christ is now, once again, creating a community to bring this mission to life in their midst.
In short, through the disciples, God was re-Creating the priestly kingdom in the Church: a worldwide community shaped by God’s forgiveness and peace, to be shared with everyone through faith in the Risen Lord.
At Easter, Jesus entrusted to His disciples a share in His own priestly role: pronouncing peace with God, and forgiveness of sins, in Jesus’ name, and through the Holy Spirit at work in them. They were to announce by their words and their way of life that in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, the reality of reconciliation is now truly possible… overcoming all that divides us from God and from each other.
This is the hope that the Psalmist had: a family living together in unity, set apart for the sacred ministry of embodying God’s peace. This is precisely what happened after the Holy Spirit empowered the first believers to live together in the reality of God’s forgiveness and holy love… drawing people to faith daily by living God’s way together.
For many of us, this all sounds like some unachievable fantasy… completely removed from our experience of human relationships. And yes, it is all too easy to see our painful lack of peace… especially in those places where we long to see it the most: among our communities… in the Church, and our families… we can even see all sorts of divisions in our own selves. There’s so many broken relationships… so much anger, suspicion, and selfishness. How are we supposed to take seriously the possibility of peace… of unity, if we’ve never seen it in action? If we can’t even imagine it happening?
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) These are the words the Risen Lord spoke to Thomas, one of the Twelve disciples, who would not come to believe in the New Reality… in the Resurrection of Jesus, and all that comes along with it… until Christ came and met with him… opening his eyes and his heart to the truth.
These words are also spoken to all of us who struggle to believe in the Good News that Jesus lives, and that He has opened up the way of peace, once and for all. These words are an invitation to faith… an invitation to trust that God is doing something beyond what we can expect or imagine, and that, even though we cannot clearly see how it might come about, God wants to bring His New Creation, His peace to light through you and me.
In His death and Resurrection, Jesus offers God’s peace, forgiveness, and fellowship to us all. Through His Holy Spirit, He empowers us to truly be God’s people, to walk in God’s light, and to share in God’s great rescue mission. To be the community of those who have received forgiveness in Jesus Name, and who are now commissioned to share forgiveness too. In our life together: in our worship, fellowship, service, and even in our struggles and failures, Jesus remains our eternal Advocate, our Great High Priest… so that through this Resurrection Reality, this New Creation He’s begun in us, all people might come to believe in Him, and receive New Life in His name.
So, with the Holy Spirit’s help, may the peace of the Risen Lord be always with us. May it overcome the divisions and darkness in us that deny God’s reconciling love. And may it empower us to live God’s way in the world, that others might come to believe in Christ’s peace by seeing it at work in us. Amen.