“Peace be with you,” Jesus said as he appeared in resurrected form before his followers. They were behind locked doors, afraid that the people who crucified him were coming for them. They had last seen him on the cross. All of a sudden, there he was, wishing them peace.
I would imagine George Zimmerman has not had peace ever since he spotted a black youth in a hoody and decided he should confront the boy because black teens in hoodies are naturally to be suspected of something. An unarmed 17-year-old was gunned down even after police had expressly told Mr. Zimmeran to avoid the confrontation. No, he has not had peace.
In my own neighborhood, someone saw some two black teens going door-to-door. Not knowing that these were high school football players doing fund-raising, this concerned individual wondered if she should call the police. In 10 years, someone will wonder that about my own son who is also black.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma several black men have been randomly shot. Now two men are custody, one Caucasian, the other Native American. It made me think back to 2002, several months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time I lived just outside of Washington DC where a sniper was randomly picking people off. First, planes crashed into buildings, then snipers were shooting people. Those shootings, not racially motivated, but produced in people a nagging tension that hung in the air. My then girlfriend and now wife, Candy, and I would go out on dates and constantly watch out for the snipers.
I remember in Florida the renegade pastor threatened to burn a Quran, and all the trouble that caused people in many communities.
And Afghanistan: 3rdworld Muslims and American soldiers repeatedly find ways to fuel the fires of hate.
Black-white-hispanic; 3rdworld, 1st world; Muslim world v. America; where is this peace Jesus promised?
He said it twice. “Peace be with you.”
20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Thomas, of the disciples, wasn’t there when Jesus appeared and refused to believe. “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, again they were behind closed doors and again, Jesus was just among them, and again he said, “Peace be with you.” We recall John 14. Jesus gathered with the disciples for the Passover meal.
He unexpectedly washed their feet and said, “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
To their confused minds, Jesus bid them peace. Post-crucifixion, in the height of their fear Jesus showed up to extend to them peace. To Thomas’ doubts, Jesus said “peace.”
To the Martin family in their grief and the Zimmerman family in his guilt, Jesus bids peace.
To Muslims who hate America and to Muslims who are American citizens, Jesus sends his peace.
To American soldiers and to the people they fight, he gives his peace. To the mourning families in Tulsa and to the killers and their family members Jesus gives peace.
This would not make everyone happy. Those who cry for justice through frustrated, angry tears do not want to hear Jesus give his peace to terrorists and snipers and killers. They want justice! They want the guilty punished! And make no mistake about it. There will be a judgment and the guilty will have to face God in their sin. God is loving and wrathful at the same time.
But, while justice is right and we should demand it, it does not bring peace.[i] In August, 1989, Anneliese MacPhail got a call. Her son Mark, a security guard, had been murdered. In September of 2011, the man convicted for killing her son received the lethal injection from the state of Georgia. The CNN story about her that I read on the website last weekend made a point quite emphatically. In the six months since her son’s killer had been executed, she has not had peace. What she thought might bring closure to the ordeal, did not. The killer’s execution has not eased her troubled soul. Though I personally oppose the death penalty, you might say justice was served this case. But it did not bring peace. Only Jesus can do that.
Racial killings, murders, tension related to war and to Muslim-American relations – this does not connect with everyone here. For some, these stories are on the news and we see them, but then we turn the news off and they don’t affect us very much. So, do we have peace? Examine your own life.
For me, anticipation of like special worship services and big trips and big events brings anxiety. I have sat in the hospital waiting room with people and the uncertainty and the fear take peace away. Maybe this day – April 15, tax day – maybe today is a day where peace is hard to come by. Maybe relationships do it. Our parents and siblings and spouses and children are the ones who make up our closest relationships and often, our happiest times come with these people we love. But just as often, we spend frustrating energy in impatience, anger, and hurt that can only come from someone who is extremely close. That’s not exactly the definition of peace.
To our nervousness, Jesus says, “Peace.” At the hospital bedside,“Peace.” When financial worries weigh us down, he offers peace. In the midst of our family feuds when emotion boils hot, the resurrected one steps in and says, “Peace, be still,” the same way he said it to calm the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Does this peace given by Jesus help? In the midst of turmoil, Jesus says a simple five-letter word. But all the stressors and sources of pain are still here. His so-called peace has not taken danger, death, and evil away.
And yet, these disciples who huddled in fear where changed men and women after meeting the risen Lord. In Acts 7, we see Stephen. As his body is pelted with rocks thrown by people determined to snuff out the Jesus movement, he calmly says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He’s dying a slow, painful death, yet he has peace. James of the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, the disciples closest to Jesus of the 12 is executed for his allegiance to Jesus (Acts 12:2). Faced with Herod’s threats, he maintains his faith and is beheaded. He was not rescued. He died. But he had peace. And because of that many heard the story and decided they would follow Jesus.
Even when I have major stress, when I slow down and pray and rest in Christ, I can face them in peace. How does the peace of Jesus help us face the world – simply daily stressors and major ills that assault all of humanity? How in the worst of times can we rejoice as resurrection people?
21Jesus said to them … “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Just as promised, when Jesus departed, the Holy Spirit remained as the tangible presence of God with the church. Our peace comes when we are in fellowship with God’s Holy Spirit and with God’s church.
It doesn’t mean the relationship with the church is always perfect. Sometimes we get angry with the church. Sometimes the church or someone in the church does things we do not like. But, we stay connected both with God and with God’s people. We do not turn our back on the church or on God. Even when storms of pain and tension and angry upend us and toss us about, we stay in full contact with God.
The resurrection legacy is not that things get easy but that God is with us. Matthew 28, Jesus tells his followers, “Remember I am with you always to the end of the age.” This is completely true even as He ascends bodily. We are filled with his Holy Spirit. So the circumstances of the world do not determine whether we have peace or chaos; when we are tuned into Christ, He gives us peace no matter what’s going on in our lives.
In 1950’s, missionaries in South America were murdered. Their wives continued and led to faith the natives that killed their husbands.
Theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer did some of his best work while in a Nazi concentration camp.
Some of my own moments of feeling closest to God have come at times of tension or loss. This is not a case of “that which doesn’t break me makes me stronger.” This is the real and living and all-powerful God showing up in life, in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of the resurrected one is present now.
Perhaps your life is sorely lacking peace and you need hope and you need something different than what you have right now. In the afterglow of Easter, I urge you turn to Jesus. Rather than listening to familiar stories of thriving in the face of turmoil or hearing me share how Jesus has strengthened me, in the midst of the difficulty you are facing today, why not come to Him. Why not open your heart and invite His Holy Spirit to take over your life. To each one of us He says,“Peace.”
Today, come and receive the peace He gives.