Easter 2B Sermon (1997)

2nd Sunday of Easter
Texts: John 20:19-31;
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1

CALLED AS PEACEMAKERS

When it was evening on that [Easter] day, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of [their leaders], Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” — John 20:19

What were the disciples feelings that first Easter evening? And what kind of peace was it that Jesus came into their midst to bring them? “Peace be with you,” said Jesus, twice. But what was the nature of the unrest that the disciples were feeling?

The text tells us that they were afraid. They were afraid of their leaders, the same ones who had killed Jesus and could very easily be looking for them, too. Fear. Yes, that’s understandable. But I think we can imagine many other kinds of feelings, as well. Grief, for instance. Incredible sorrow for the loss not only of their teacher and leader but also of their hopes for the salvation from God that they had come to expect. It’s hard to imagine the depth of their loss. It must also have come with a great deal of confusion: “Why?” they wondered, “why would God let this happen?” They must have been terribly confused. Guilt. The feelings of guilt must also have been tremendous. They had all run away, abandoned their teacher at his hour of greatest need. Peter had even denied Jesus three times. Yes, afraid, grief-stricken, confused, guilty, the disciples had a great need for Jesus to come into their midst and bring them peace.

Did we miss anything? I’d like to prod our imaginations a bit more with the imagination of Walter Wangerin, Jr., who tells this story as part of his novelistic telling of the biblical story, in The Book of God. You will recognize many of the feelings we have already identified, but listen for something else, too, as I read his version of this gospel story:

That same evening ten disciples were huddled in the upper room. The door had been locked more than three days now, the windows shut against spying eyes. The air was worse than stale.Thomas, irritated with the others, had gone out to find some food.

Some of the men dozed on their backs on the floor. Some sat as if in conversation, though no one was speaking.

The table where they’d eaten the Passover last Thursday had been removed. The side remained. Two candles burned fitfully on either end of it. The room shuddered in shadow.

Simon Peter was pacing back and forth like a lion behind bars. It was his restlessness that caused the candle flames to bow and gutter.

Matthew said. “I’ve lost count.”

James said, “Of what?”

“How many times the rock-man has thrown himself east and west in our small country.”

“That man’s a menace.” James said. “If he lands on someone, he’ll crush him — then there’ll be ten of us.”

“Grim talk. James.”

“Grim times. Matthew. We’re hiding here because the leaders want to blot us out. You know Simon has never been a tranquil man. But look at him now. He’s out of control. Who knows what he’ll do? Yes, he could get someone killed.”

Andrew said. “Something’s troubling my brother.”

“Oh, poor Peter!” James exclaimed. “As if there’s no trouble for anyone else! Jesus is dead. Does our tender brother mourn him more than the rest of us?”

Andrew put his head down, near tears.

Matthew, as dry as chalk, murmured, “No need for ridicule, James.”

John said. “Maybe Jesus isn’t dead!”

James turned on him. “Women talk!” he sneered. “The talk of hysterical women!”

“I was at the tomb, James,” John said. “His body was not there.”

Matthew spoke moderating words. “Absence is no proof.” he said.

“A stolen corpse!” James declared.

John said. “But his windings were still there. And the cloth that had covered his face was rolled up in a place by itself. What then, brother? Neat thieves? Tidy thieves?”

James fairly shouted: “No need for ridicule, John! I’m just asking for proof. I haven’t seen any proof.”

Andrew raised his eyes and whispered. “The curtain that hides the Most Holy Place in the Temple — when Jesus died it tore in two from the top to the bottom.”

How did you know that?” James sneered. “Were you there?”

“No.” Andrew murmured, withdrawing into himself. “Simon told me. Simon was there.”

James the son of Zebedee jumped up shouting, “What is the matter with you, stone-head. Don’t you have any sense?”

Simon stopped pacing and looked at James. “What?”

“Do you deliberately endanger us, or are you just stupid?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Ahhh” James growled. turning away, “He’s another Judas.”

Andrew gasped.

Simon’s body snapped into lighting posture. “James.” he bellowed, “explain yourself!”

James whirled about and matched the bellow: “No, you explain yourself, you public spectacle! What were you doing in the Temple when Jesus was dying?’

“Praying!” Simon shouted. He began to move toward James with his knees bent, elbows crooked. his fingers like grappling hooks. “I was begging for forgiveness.”

James, too, lowered himself for the attack and spread his arms.

Matthew began to stand, saving, “Brothers, there are other enemies…”

At the same moment Andrew flew toward Simon and John rose up in front of James.

But James, glaring at Simon, whispered with calculated spite: “Get behind me, Satan!”

Simon howled like a wild beast, his face distorted by violent emotions. He stumbled backward a moment, then lie gathered his body into a low projectile and prepared to launch himself at James. There was such a haunting in his eyes that the disciples instinctively fell away from him.

Suddenly, a beam of blinding white light split the room at its center.

And then it was no light at all, but the bright figure of a human, standing among them, standing directly between Simon Peter and James.

And then the Figure was Jesus.

He said. “Peace be with you.”

So what kind of peace was it that Jesus brought into their midst? I was surprised to read Wangerin’s version to the boys the other night and be confronted with the literal peace that Jesus brought with him other words, the kind of peace which is the absence of fighting. All those emotions we imagined at the outset, there was one important one we left out: anger. And in Wangerin’s version the anger is just about to explode into physical violence when Jesus is suddenly in their midst, saying, “Peace be with you.” Did you ever think of that kind of peace?

There’s even something more subtle than the anger namely, the jealousy and rivalry behind it. When Andrew remarks to James that his brother Peter is troubled, James responds, “Oh, poor Peter! As if there’s no trouble for anyone else! Jesus is dead. Does your tender brother mourn him more than the rest of us?” In other words, there’s a sense of rivalry about who is mourning more than whom. Before Jesus died, the disciples were continually arguing about who was the greatest. It makes sense that that would continue after his death.

Did you think of this kind of peace? That Jesus would come into their midst and help them to finally put aside their rivalries and jealousies and anger? That Jesus would help them to begin to live in a new way so that they could work together and bring this kind of peace into a world that so sorely needs it?

It is the same kind of peace that Jesus comes to bring us again today. All the feelings of unrest that you and I might bring with us today: fear, grief, confusion, guilt, and, yes, the anger and envy. Jesus comes into our midst and says, “Peace be with you.” As we break bread and share a cup of wine. Jesus comes to us to feed us with a new way to live, a way to live that gets us out of those jealousies and angers that make for unrest. He comes to us with a word of forgiveness that gets it all started.

And Jesus comes to us today with a call, with a commission to be more than his disciples, but to also be his apostles — in other words, those who are called to bring this peace to others. Listen to Wangerin’s moving finish to our gospel story:

Simon dropped to the floor, sitting with his legs straight out in front of him. James gaped. No one spoke. Andrew knelt down and covered his face.Jesus allowed his eves to travel over each man in the room. He opened his white robe so that they could sec the scar in his side. He showed them too. the spike scars at the ends of his arms.

John breathed. “It is you, Lord.”

The eyes of the disciples began to shed fear and to glitter at the sight before them: “O Lord, it’s You!”

Again Jesus said. “Peace be with you,” and nodded to make the word personal unto each one of them. Then he said. “Friends, you know that the Father sent me into the world. In the same way I now send you. Not just disciples anymore — I make you my apostles.”

Jesus stood over Andrew and placed his hands on the shy man’s head. The breath that descended from the Lords nostrils seemed scented of myrrh. Andrew smelled the myrrh as Jesus touched him and said. “Receive the Hole Spirit.”

Likewise, Jesus placed his hands on John’s head and breathed on him: Receive the Holy Spirit. And on James, on Matthew and Philip and Nathaniel and all the disciples.

Last, he came to Simon Peter.

Throughout this gentle ceremony Jesus was saying: “If you forgive the sins of the people, their sins will be forgiven. If you hold their sins, they will be held fast.”

Then, with such civility that it seemed the right and proper thing to do, Jesus departed, and no one tried to stop him.

All ten men remained motionless, enshrouded each in his own wonder.

James whispered: “Mary Magdalene was right.”

Yes, Mary Magdalene was right. Christ is risen! And you say…

Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Racine, WI, April 5-6, 1997

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