Sunday, April 8, 2018

Easter 2

Readings: Acts 4:32-34; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

“Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Did he say, “Peace be with you”
because he knew that,
when they saw him standing among them,
still bearing the marks of torture and betrayal,
they might have thought
that he had come for retribution?
After all, they had each betrayed him
to one degree or another.
Maybe they had not sold him out for cash, like Judas,
or denied him with their lips, like Peter,
but they had all fled,
they had all abandoned him to his fate.

The light and the joy of Easter day
can sometimes lead us to forget
that the disciples to whom Jesus appeared
in that upper room
were not a faithful remnant,
devoutly waiting for God to raise him up.
They were, in fact, an unfaithful remnant,
those who had failed him,
failed the one who had offered them
nothing less than God’s kingdom.
Was their sin not worse than that
of the political and religious leaders
who play so prominent a role
in the passion narratives,
but who cared little about Jesus,
seeing him only as a pawn
to be played in some larger game?
What was thoughtless disregard
and casual cruelty
in comparison with
the knowing abandonment of Jesus
by those who claimed to love him?

I sometimes wonder if the disciples
in that upper room on that Easter evening
remembered Jesus’s enigmatic words
about rising on the third day,
or pondered the mysterious message
of the women about the empty tomb,
and devoutly hoped that none of it was true.
For if Jesus was risen,
would he not return to demand
an eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth?

But he stands before them and says,
“Peace be with you.”
Peace, not payback.
And we are told,
“the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
They rejoiced, not simply because he had returned,
but because the first words he had spoken to them
were not “How could you?”
or “How dare you?”
or “you owe me,”
but “peace be with you.”
They rejoiced because,
even though he still bore the wounds of his betrayal,
he spoke the word “peace.”
They rejoiced because the miracle of Easter
was not simply that Jesus had returned to life
but that he offered forgiveness and peace
to this unfaithful remnant.
Had he returned for retribution,
then the kingdom of God
would still have lain dead in the tomb;
for the defeat of death through resurrection
is always also the defeat of sin through forgiveness.

And then Jesus breathed forth upon them the Holy Spirit,
and drew them into this miracle,
drew them into his resurrection,
drew them into the new life of forgiveness.
He said, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Those who had received new life through Jesus
were now entrusted with his ministry of reconciliation.
And we too, to whom the risen Jesus
still speaks his word of peace:
if we are to be people of the resurrection,
then we must be people of forgiveness,
people of mercy;
we too must speak his word of peace.
When we offer peace to each other at Mass,
just before we come forward
to receive the risen Christ in the Eucharist,
we are not simply taking a moment
to engage in idle chatter or superficial friendliness.
Rather, we are enacting resurrection.
We are engaged in the awe-filled task
of letting the Spirit speak through us
the very words of the risen Christ:
“Peace be with you.”

Of course, there are plenty of people
who will tell you that mercy is for suckers,
for the weak,
for doormats.
These people make up
what our second reading calls “the world.”
The world says that people must be held accountable
so that the scales of justice can be balanced.
The world says that you will never have peace
until you have exacted the vengeance that is your due.
The world says that if you forgive people
they will only betray you again.
The world will tell you that Jesus Christ is not risen,
that mercy has not blossomed forth from his tomb,
that he has not shown his wounds to his betrayers
and said “peace be with you.”
But Saint John tells us,
“the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”
To believe that Jesus is risen from the dead
is to believe that forgiveness is possible,
that mercy cannot be held
within the tomb of hurt and hatred.
We may still bear the wounds of betrayal,
but we also bear the risen life of Jesus
that is ours through the Spirit,
into which we have been baptized.
This risen life courses through us
and breaks through the confines
of what the world thinks is possible,
creating a new world of new possibilities:
the possibility of forgiveness,
the possibility of mercy,
the possibility of peace.
“Peace be with you.”