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Sunday 19 April 2020

Peace is my parting gift

1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

By Keith M Phipps

Supernumerary Methodist presbyter, Ripon

Context: a regular preaching service

Aim: to share God’s peace with all whom we meet and greet

We are in the season of Eastertide and the themes of life and death abound. Today we are invited to consider a band of brothers, the disciples of Jesus, entombed in a locked room and shackled by fear and anxiety: fear for their lives and riddled with guilt. Pointing the finger, they accuse one another that they have failed to live up to their words; they have betrayed their Lord and Master. Blame encircles them. Furthermore, they are paralysed because Jesus, their glorious leader, has been crucified, is dead and has been buried. Yet they are confused by a message of resurrection that he is alive and in their midst.

Fear and hope

Here, behind locked doors, Jesus appears to them unannounced. Like a Jack in the Box rising from the tomb, he comes and overshadows them with his presence. Unlike the disciples, Jesus does not point the finger and apportion blame and guilt for his death; instead he speaks his peace and shalom. Unlike our human reaction of accusing and finding fault, with open hands and wounded side, he speaks his word of peace to reassure them that all is not lost, and his death was not in vain. In other words, it was all within God’s providence and purpose.

In death and in life, we often look for scapegoats; we are quick to off-load our responsibility onto others. Here, in this locked room, desolation, darkness and even doubt are dispelled by his word of grace which resonates down the ages and echoes in our wounded and broken hearts, saying: ‘Peace be with you.’ So, his peace is his gift freely given to each one of us today. It is unmerited and undeserved: sufficient, sovereign, saving grace.

Doubt and faith

Like Thomas, we may also have our doubts and fears. However, the risen Christ comes to us today, inviting us not to look into an empty tomb, although it has its place in the sacred story. Instead, we are invited to reach out to touch his hands and side. Thus, we are invited to address his wounds and enter into the heart of the wounded healer who has been raised up, in the first instance, on the cross; and who is vindicated by God in his rising from the tomb. In the Easter garden, Mary cried ‘Rabboni,, meaning Teacher. As we, however, begin to contemplate his sacrifice on the cross for our salvation, are we heard to cry, like Thomas, ‘My Lord and My God!’?

The breath of life

But that is not all, for we are not left to flounder in our new-found faith in the crucified and risen Lord. For here, in John 20, we read that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon His disciples, empowering them to tell the Good News of the Gospel, echoing Genesis 2 where God breathes life into Adam. In the sealed room Jesus, as God, breathes the breath of life into the grief-stricken disciples, making them the New Humanity: the Church.

Thus, here lies the challenge for us all. The Cross and Resurrection are one and the same, for here we are loved by God. Here we are forgiven and raised up to newness of life in Jesus Christ so we, in turn, may speak peace one to another and to the world we inhabit.

In conclusion

In the world where we live, the finger of blame is often pointed at us and others. This cycle can be broken as we allow the mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ to turn the turbine of our hearts and compel us to reach out with open hearts and hands, embracing the world with God’s forgiveness and peace.

Thus, together as a forgiven and forgiving community, we, as members of the Church, are called to breathe God’s peace into a broken, bloodied, bruised and battered world.

In the meantime, let us greet one another in the name of the risen Christ as we reach out to our neighbour, saying: ‘Peace be with you.’

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