Peace be with you, by Pastor Noel

April 7/8, 2018     Second Sunday of Easter, A

 

      On the day we call Easter, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to ready Jesus’ body for burial.

      The tomb was empty! Jesus’ body was gone! She ran and told the other disciples. They didn’t believe her. Later, Jesus appeared to Mary, so again she ran to the others. Still they did not believe her.

      The ones who had followed Jesus, who had promised to be with him through thick and thin, had run away and hidden. They were still hiding in a locked room, fearing that Jesus’ fate may be their own. Suddenly, Jesus is with them.

      If they were terrified of the religious authorities, imagine how they felt when they saw Jesus—they had betrayed and abandoned him.

      What was he going to do to them now?  

      He said to them “Peace.” And again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

      Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

      This is the main point of our gospel—the breathing on and sending.

      The story about Thomas just gives the others the chance to say “We have seen the Lord!” and start becoming apostles.

      But to best understand what the breathing on and sending, means, let’s look at what else is happening.

      The disciples have been fearful that Jesus would punish them for leaving him, and probably fearful that God would seek revenge and punish them, and us!, too.

      Jesus’ words dispel that notion, as he offers peace and forgiveness.

      So we know that the cross is not about God’s blaming or punishment or revenge.

      The cross is for us to be witnesses to God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness that leads to faith, to trust.

      The peace Jesus gives is the opposite of fear. Faith is the opposite of fear. In this story we learn the power of God’s forgiveness for the disciples and for us.

      And if we are forgiven, so loved by God, then how can we not be forgiving, too. We cannot feel, or even imagine, ourselves forgiven, and hold others in contempt.

      So Jesus says that forgiving is the sign of God’s kingdom and forgiving is the mission of the whole community.

      Gail O’Day has written that forgiveness is the Spirit empowered mission of continuing Jesus’ work in the world, through his teachings and actions about sin.

      When I say “sin” what do you think of? I imagine that you think of “bad stuff” that people do—I know that’s what I think of. What my mother said not to do!

      Even though I know that’s not what Jesus was talking about, I think of sin as “bad stuff” because that’s what I learned growing up. But sin is not “bad stuff” we do, sin is separating ourselves from God. 

      The sin that Jesus is talking about, and invites us to be forgiving about, is not moral behavior, it is theological.

      For Christians, sin is being blind to the revelation of God that we see in Jesus. Jesus is saying that through him we see that God is about forgiveness and reconciliation.

      So the work of the church is to show the power of God through being forgiving and reconciling.

      Forgiving means not holding a grudge against another. Forgiving means freeing ourselves of anger and resentment. That’s the difference between “forgiving” and “retaining” that Jesus mentions.

        Forgiving does NOT mean that we say “everything’s OK.” What happened still happened. There may be severe consequences from what happened. We don’t need to let what happened fill us with the poison of bitterness.

      So we say “I forgive” and we ask God’s help to do that.

      Reconciliation is the next step. Reconciliation restores relationships.  Forgiveness is a personal, individual, choice.            

Reconciliation involves the other person, or persons. This is a wonderful goal, but not always possible.

      Forgiveness is.

      As the church, we are not invited to be arbiters of right and wrong, but to be unceasing witnesses to God’s love as shown in the life of Jesus.

      That’s so simple—but it’s not easy. So we have help—the help of God’s Spirit. Jesus breathed on the disciples that first Easter night, and filled them with God’s Spirit.

      John tells us that this is the first day of the week, so we can make the connection to the first day, to creation.

      The breath that Jesus breathes is the same breath that gives life to dirt and forms Adam. (the Hebrew word is a collective noun, referring to all humankind.) It is the same breath that brings life to the dry bones in Ezekiel.

      When Jesus breathes on the disciples they are made new creations, filled with Holy Spirit.

      This is the power of the resurrection, and in it we are sent to help God change the world. Sent to bring peace and reconciliation everywhere. In the other gospels we have to wait for Pentecost for this, in case you wondered.

      The power of the resurrection is not that we get to go to heaven. God had already promised that. The power of the resurrection is that we are God’s beloved.

      The power of the resurrection is that we get to live in God’s kingdom of forgiveness and reconciliation right now.

      Forgiveness is not just about what others have done. We are invited to forgive ourselves, too. God invites us to let go what makes us feel less than beloved.

      When we learn to trust our belovedness and to know the power of God’s love for us, we find the peace that Jesus offers us each time we encounter him. Kingdom peace.

      As we live in God’s kingdom now, we know that it’s not just for us, but for all creation, and God has given us the mission of helping make it a reality. 

      Peter Rollins writes of ignoring that reality.

      He says “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, (when) I turn my back on the poor; (when) I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.”

      He says that he also affirms the resurrection when he stands up for those who are oppressed, and when he speaks for those whose voices are not heard.

      We all deny the resurrection when we think that it’s only about heaven and not about serving others as Jesus did and living forgiveness and reconciliation.

      We affirm the resurrection whenever we support and lift up those living in unjust conditions, and when we live to be forgiving and reconciling in the power of the Holy Spirit that has been breathed into us.

      We affirm the resurrection when we live the Collect we prayed to begin our worship.

      “Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.”

      May each of us know the power of Holy Spirit in our lives. May we show forth the forgiveness and reconciliation of Jesus. May we live in the peace Jesus gives.

      May we live so that every day peoples’ lives will be transformed and we, and they, will be able to say “I have seen the Lord!”

 

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details