Acts 4.32-35, Psalm 133, John 20.19-31 (Year B, 2021)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are a number of Resurrection appearances by Christ. They are so extraordinary, so dramatic, that we often get caught up mentally staring at the faces of those reacting to Jesus: Peter leaping off the boat to swim to shore (John 21.7-8), the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts filled with fire (Luke 24.13-35), and most famous of all, Doubting Thomas, and his exclamation of ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.28). These expressions of delight, amazement and awe are so compelling that we can forget who they are about, that quiet, calm presence of Jesus. So today let’s turn the focus on Christ.
Firstly, Jesus can go and be anywhere: the beach, on a road as we walk away, in a room where the doors are locked. Jesus meets us where we are, and guides us, with kindness and compassion, to where God yearns for us to be.
Secondly, Jesus shared the peace. Christ’s peace is ‘not as the world gives’ (John 14.27), meaning that it is something beyond political or military peace. Christ’s peace cannot be bought, bartered or fought for. It is a gift from God, and means a spiritual security of being right with God. One of the Messiah’s titles was the Prince of Peace, and so through Christ we are reminded that we have a new relationship with God, where we have been reconciled and saved.
So impactful was this sharing of peace by Christ that it became an identifier of the early Church. Romans 16.16 , 1 Corinthians 16.20, 2 Corinthians 13.12 and 1 Thessalonians 5.26 all speak of greeting one another with a holy kiss, and the last two use phrases along the lines of ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ 1 Peter 5.14 also mentions the kiss and ends the letter ‘Peace to all of you who are in Christ.’
The sharing of the holy kiss of peace was more than just a greeting. It was part of the identity of the community, shaped in and by Christ. The community was distinctive because of how they behaved, such as sharing their possessions (Acts 4.32-35) and this lived out peace.
I’ve mentioned in the past how the word ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of ‘God bless ye’. And when we say ‘Rest in peace’ about someone who has died, we are actually saying, ‘Rest in the peace of Christ’. I do think if we are intentional about including greetings and partings such as ‘Peace be with you’, it would transform our community and relationship interactions. Such words bind us together in our identity, which is in Christ.
Furthermore, there is a Latin phrase, ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’, which basically means ‘what we pray is what we believe.’ So if anyone asks you what the Anglican Christian church believes, point them to our worship. The peace was traditionally part of our liturgy, mentioned all the way back to Justin Martyr. In Britain it disappeared in 1552, but finally returned in 1928 in the Book of Common Prayer, and officially with the Alternative Service Book and remains now in Common Worship.
It’s worth noting here that the liturgical Peace is not a coffee break, and nor do you have to speak to everyone. Rather focus on the person you are sharing the peace with, and try not to let your eyes slide over their shoulder as you look for the next person! It’s absolutely fine to simply share the Peace with the person besides you, and in front or behind. Come every week and share the Peace with 4 new people, and by the end of the year you’ll have shared it with everyone!
And note how if you divide the service into two parts, the Peace mirrors the Confession at the start of the service. So by the time we receive Holy Communion, we have been made right with God, and with each other. As a community worshipping the Lord, we are one.
And thirdly, and finally, Jesus breathed on the disciples. The breathing is highly symbolic here. In our Lent Group we looked at the vision of Ezekiel, of the Valley of Dry Bones, and how God breathed new life into the bones, which represented Israel. Think too of Genesis 2.7, as God breathed life into Adam, or the Wisdom of Solomon 15.11, which describes the creation of humans by God who “inspired them with active souls and breathed a living spirit into them.” And so in Christ’s action we see the gift of the Spirit as the beginning of the new creation.
Taken together, we begin to see the Resurrection for it is – ever-present, a gift of grace beyond all understanding, a new creation, drawing us into that new relationship with God, where our hearts find their true rest in Christ.
Peace be with you.
(Artwork: ‘Jesus appears to the disciples’ by William Hole