The First Lesson: Acts (5:27-32)
[When the captain and the temple police had brought the apostles out of the temple,] they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The Response: Psalm 150
Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn; *
praise him with lyre and harp.
4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.
5 Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord.
The New Testament: Revelation (1:4-8)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Gospel: John (20:19-31)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Peace be with you.” In the gospel according to John, these are the first words spoken by the risen Jesus to his disciples as he comes to them on Easter evening. That in itself points out their importance. And his second words? “Peace be with you,” he said again. Then, later in the reading that we just heard, Jesus appeared to them once more, eight days later; and his first words then were what? “Peace be with you.” Three times in this short reading. This is obviously not just a casual greeting. John, who is so careful in the scenes that he creates and in the stories that he fashions and in the vocabulary that he chooses, obviously sees that “peace” as key to the reality that God is bringing about in Jesus’ resurrection.
But what exactly is that “peace”? The Greek word that is used in this dramatic scene carries forward the connotation of the Hebrew word “shalom.” “Shalom” can sometimes be just a casual greeting. But in the language of the bible, “shalom” is much more than that. It is a powerful and meaning-rich term. It refers not to a general, detached feeling of calm, but to the fullness of all the blessings that humans can experience and enjoy: material and emotional as well as spiritual. A life of “shalom” is a life free from want and free from fear. It is a life in which one finds purpose and meaning and genuine fulfillment. There is nothing more that people can desire in life than genuine “shalom,” genuine peace. It is the fullness of God’s blessings.
But it is important to keep in mind not only what that peace is, but also what that peace is not. It is decidedly not a life removed from the very real world in which we live, from its problems, and from the sufferings of its people. Jesus makes that abundantly clear up-front. When he first greets his followers on that Easter evening, he does so with the words “Peace be with you”; but he follows them immediately with the qualifying and sobering words “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.” What Jesus lived and what he faced head-on and what he suffered was hardly a peace that consisted of a detachment from the world around him with all its needs. Instead it was a peace that he experienced only as he was fully immersed in the world around him and in the lives of all those whom he encountered and whom he served. And that is the peace with which he greeted his disciples as he sent them to do the same.
Back in the 1940s, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple suggested that Christianity might just be the “most material of the world’s religions.” It is not a means of escape from reality. Instead it is a faith that affirms the word of God made flesh. It is concerned with embodiment. It proclaims the resurrection of the body. It embraces its adherents’ responsibility for transforming this world in which we live to become more and more what God intends it to be.
As such, the Christian faith offers us a disturbing and demanding peace. It is a peace that Jesus charges us to bring about in the lives of people and in the world in our time. As Methodist bishop and New Testament scholar William Willimon notes (Acts, pp. 55-6): “As Luke sees it, good news which is powerless to change some of the world’s misery is hardly good news.” Instead, that “peace of God which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is a costly peace, one that demands our own immersion in the world and our own self-giving for the sake of the others.
If we really take time to understand that “peace of God,” we might be more hesitant when someone comes up us at worship and greets us with the expression “Peace be with you.” We might want to stop and think very seriously whether we actually want that kind of peace in our lives, with all that it implies, with all that it demands of us.
The exchange of “Peace” during our worship service is not supposed to be a sort of
“liturgical halftime”: a time to complain to somebody else about our nagging cough or aching elbow, to compliment someone on his or her new outfit, to catch up with the news of the week, to make plans for what we are going to do after Coffee Hour, or to stand around in the pews or in the aisle and chit-chat, making general conversation. Instead, the Peace is a very serious and rather solemn moment. It is a time in which we, in a sense, enter into and relive the scene from today’s gospel reading, joining the first disciples in that locked room, becoming part of that encounter with the risen Christ on the first Easter evening. It is an occasion for us to remember the significance and the implications of Jesus’ “Peace be with you” to his disciples: his first words to them after his suffering, death, and resurrection.
As we continue the fifty days of Easter, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles will remind us of the costly nature of accepting and living and trying to bring others God’s peace. Next Sunday at St. Margaret’s, we will hear about Tabitha, a woman who spent her life, using her skills to make and provide clothing for those in her community who were in-need. The following week, we will be reminded of Peter who faced severe criticism from the conservative members of the church in Jerusalem because he had dared to go out on a limb and to welcome into the community of faith the first non-Jews, without insisting that they practice Torah, like everyone else in the young church had done. And the Sunday after that, we will listen to the story of the way that Paul and Silas were attacked, flogged, and thrown into prison in response to their work of setting a woman free from a life of enslavement. All of them grasped the nature of the peace that is God’s gift to us in the risen Christ. Yet they chose to embrace it despite its challenges and risks.
The story of that kind of peace, a peace that comes from faith-in-action, from a faith that makes a difference in the lives of people – that story has continued to be told and to bring forth new life in the world for nearly 2000 years. The question for us as we continue this Easter celebration is whether we are willing to embrace and embody that peace, allowing it to shape our life’s story as well.