by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
That’s why it’s such an odd scene in this Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-31). After Christ’s joyous resurrection…after His conquering of death by death…the disciples spend the end of Easter Sunday hiding behind locked doors. Peter and John have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has spoken with the risen Christ, and she’s told these disciples about it. You'd think they would be off celebrating, announcing to anyone who would listen that Jesus is alive again. Instead, dreading more cruelty from the Jews, Jesus’ disciples cower in fear. They continue acting just like people whose leader is dead.
To be fair, just three days ago, they were traumatized by the sight of their God-anointed King’s horrific beating and mocking and crucifixion and burial. This Jesus who they assumed was going to assemble armies to rescue them out from under the Roman Empire’s oppression and restore Israel to a glorious state of dominance…suddenly let all of their hopes to come crashing down into a hopeless mess. They had locked every window and door, and they were in a state of mourning. They were confused, disillusioned, depressed, angry, and terrified, because they knew that the likelihood of their encountering the same fate as Him was also quite high. And so they waited in the upper room, behind locked doors, as quiet as they could be, fearing every noise they heard in the street below.
How many of us, in our own ways, are like those disciples who hid themselves in fear? It could be that economic, academic, medical, or work stresses have us worried about how things are going to turn out for us and for our families. We secretly hold-in these things and we try to take care of them ourselves…apart from God and apart from the certain knowledge that in Christ, He gives us the grace of peace with which to engage such struggles. And so, we become filled with anxiety, refusing to embrace the Life that God has given us…missing the opportunities to see the gracious blessings God would pour out into our earthly lives if we weren’t hanging on so very tightly to our own anxieties. We’re not really all that different from His disciples.
Even when Jesus Himself suddenly stands before His disciples, their fear didn’t dissipate immediately. They had reason to expect Christ’s scolding, His anger, or even His possible desire for revenge. After all, these disciples had deserted Him during the darkest moments of His passion. As He hung for hours on the cross, most of them were nowhere to be found, already locked away in fear. They likely expected, at the very least, that Christ came now to fix His steely gaze upon them and mercilessly berate them. But, glory to God, He doesn’t do that. Nothing of the sort happens. He comes back, not concerned for Himself, but for them. He senses their profound fear. So, He speaks His peace to them. He shows them His wounds, still visible on His glorified body. Their fear dissolves, and they rejoice to see Him alive, present in their midst again. So today, we are here to proclaim, joyously, that just as with His disciples in this upper room that day, the fact still remains…not only is Christ risen, but Christ is still in our midst!
In St John’s universal letter, our Lord’s “beloved disciple” tells all Christians that, “There is no fear in love because perfect love drives away all fear…” (1 John 4:18). And in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, it’s Perfect Love, in the Person of risen Jesus Christ Himself, who now stands before them…and before us today too…driving away fear, breathing His Holy Spirit upon us, emboldening us to begin the journey ahead of learning to trust Him enough to join Him in His ministry to the world. He essentially asks the disciples…and us…to let the Love of God in Jesus Christ have its way with us.
So, in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, what we hear from the mouth of our resurrected and perfect-loving Lord Jesus Christ is, “Peace be with you.” He says it not just once, or twice, but three times (John 20:19, 21, 26), as a means of emphasizing that His peace is continually being offered to us regarding all of the anxieties that we have. “Peace be with you.” It’s the peace of God in Christ Jesus…the peace of having the devil cast down and rendered powerless over us…the peace of hades-harrowed and death-defeated! “Peace be with you!” Christ is present with us, even now, and we continue to be delivered from the evil one. “Peace be with you!” Hell can no longer terrorize us. “Peace be with you!” Our grave has been turned into a mere resting place for the body until the resurrection of the dead and our death has been turned to Life by Him Who is Victor over death and the grave. “Peace be with you!”
Then along with His peace, He gives them their mission. Of course, with the Gospel Reading at our baptism, He gives that same mission to us as well. To equip them for that mission, He also breathes the Holy Spirit on them. Of course, He’s given His Holy Spirit to us as well at our baptism, to accomplish His mission.
This action, this giving of the Holy Spirit to send them and us into a participation with His ministry is a second creation and an early Pentecost. From now on, their (and our) business is to be ambassadors, reconciling humanity with God and each other (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Our Lord calls us and equips us to work together…to be participants with Christ in offering His loving peace and ministry. From that upstairs room, our Lord’s Peace and Perfect Love is meant to spread like wildfire. Set free from fear, they (and we) are asked to help set others free from debilitating and life-stealing fear.
Is it remarkable that death couldn’t hold Jesus? Oh yes, it’s mind-blowing! Is it extraordinary that fear couldn’t keep hold of His disciples? Oh yes, it’s absolutely incredible! Is it astonishing that every single one of us should be made participants in His ministry of reconciliation? Oh yes, it’s utterly unfathomable—a great mystery of God’s perfect love! Yet it’s real and waiting for you to realize it in gratitude, to appreciate and to experience this great mystery yourself.
Like the first disciples, we too can experience Jesus Christ risen from the dead, freeing us from all the other life-stealing anxieties that blight our lives daily. What are these fears we experience? A countless number of these fears are stressed and overstressed in the daily headlines of our various news outlets…illnesses for which no cure is known, a volatile economy, politicians gone amuck, wars and rumors of wars, and various natural disasters.
Other fears are more personal, more private: a bad medical report, a broken marriage, a career that crashes, not getting into the school that we’d put our hope in. We feel fear when there's no money to pay some huge bill that’s caught us by surprise. We fear when our child's report card is a disaster. We become fearful when we come back to find our home has been broken into, and all of our possessions have been picked through and plucked away.
Speaking from personal experience, when those fears flare up in our hearts, it's easy to forget God, and go off into hiding to try to escape them or solve them on our own…and yet…that’s the time when we most need to remember our Lord.
The disciples forgot for a time, there in that upstairs room. We may forget also, but Christ never forgets us. He comes to us with vivid reminders in his feet and hands and side that death, that the source of so much fear, has been conquered. He may come to you when & where you least expect Him…in the secret depths of your own soul. Take courage from His prayer for you, “Peace be with you!” Be emboldened to become united with Him, entering with Him into His loving ministry as one sent. And as you learn to trust Him in each of life’s fearful times, remember that…because Christ is risen, Christ is in our midst!