Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace be with you”.
Peace be with you.
Let me invite you to join me on a short journey into peace. Be still. Close your eyes if you will. And breathe in deeply.
Again. Let the breath take you to a precious place of peace, of safety, trust, security.
It might be an actual space, indoors or outdoors.
It might be in the quiet company of someone dear to you.
One place of peace for me is here: the sanctuary of Emmanuel church.
Sanctuary, a holy place. The English word comes from Latin: sanctum. From the beginning, Christian churches have been sanctuaries for worship; by extension, they soon also became places of refuge for fugitives and debtors. Sanctuary. By the 16th century, in England the word also meant a place set aside in nature for the protection of plants or animals—like the Sachuest wildlife refuge here on the island. A place of peace and security.
At the opening of today’s gospel, there was no sanctuary, no safe place, for the disciples. Strangers, far from the safety of their homes and village lives in the Galilee, they had followed their beloved rabbi, joining the international throng of Passover pilgrims to the great city of Jerusalem. Cheering crowds had hailed Jesus when he entered the city gates and gathered when he taught at the Temple.
Then it had all turned. Jesus’ challenges alarmed the Temple authorities. The excitement he aroused in the crowds threatened the established religious and civil order. Swiftly the might of Imperial Rome clamped down: with ruthless force they put Jesus to death.
We find the disciples, still in shock at the brutal murder of their leader, behind locked doors in the upper room. They are hiding in terror from those who had captured, condemned, and crucified the Prince of Peace.
Their fear was blended with baffling news, a shred of hope. Mary Magdalen had found Jesus’ tomb empty that morning; Peter and another disciple had rushed there and seen it, too. More confusing and wonderful still, Mary claimed that Jesus had met her in person, in the garden; they had spoken!
Suddenly, into that space fraught with sorrow, hope, and fear, Jesus appeared saying “Peace be with you.”
Standing before the disciples, the Risen Christ embodied the multiple mysteries of our faith:
the Word made flesh;
fully God and fully human;
the life after death.
Again, he said “Peace be with you”. Then, with a few more words, Jesus charged the disciples to continue the work he began, and empowered them to do so, breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.
God’s peace imbued the upper room with holiness, transformed it from a place of terror into a sanctuary.
We read this unusually spare text from John every year on the Sunday after Easter. When I was privileged to preach it in the past, I was captivated by Thomas: his insistence on seeing the risen Christ with his own eyes, and his revelation that it is God who stands before him. Indeed, Thomas’ witness has echoed down the centuries. It gives affirmation to all those to whom the Risen Christ comes—in voice, in Spirit, even in body. And it gives comfort to those who dare simply to trust and believe.
This time, I was drawn to the peace, the sanctifying power of those few words to disciples through the ages. They have the same power now, when frightening news from around the world fills the airwaves and our inboxes. Even the weather forecast is frightening!
Our world needs peace. You and I need peace. We all need sanctuary, holy places. Our Celtic forebears felt the unbounded presence of holiness, particularly in nature. They called the phenomenon a “thin place”: where the veil between heaven and earth becomes so thin that we strongly feel the presence of the divine. A sanctuary, a thin place, can be an actual space or a moment in time, an encounter with person, a creature, or a beautiful sight. In essence, sanctuary, a thin place is an inner state of being, a recognition of God’s blessing in the moment.
On the evening of his resurrection, Jesus said “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Holy scripture is living Word. Jesus’ charges to the disciples of yore, are meant for us today.
We are blessed to receive the peace of God. And Jesus calls us to share it.
God’s Spirit, is real and present, now–here and everywhere.
God’s Peace is, too: waiting to be embodied if we will pause, breath in deeply several times and receive it.
God’s Peace is ours to own, and to bear wherever we are, wherever we go, to bless and transform all of Creation.
May God give us the faith, the courage, and the grace to follow where Jesus led.
Peace be with you.