2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B
For those of you who are new to our tradition, Easter is not a day but a season. And today we begin our second week of Easter, a season of fifty days culminating in the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which actually means fifty. But today we have John’s version of the giving of the Spirit to the disciples on the first day of the resurrection.
Let me set the scene for you. You may recall from our reading last week, that Mary Magdalene, the star of John’s account of finding the empty tomb, announces to the disciples what she has found, or more properly what she has not found – Jesus’ body. Peter and John race back to the tomb to confirm her account and then abruptly leave and go home, leaving Mary Magdalene to figure out who has stolen Jesus’ body.
She encounters two angels, who ask her why she is crying and then she encounters a man whom she supposes to be the gardener, but we know it is Jesus and he asks her the same question, why are you crying? I’m sure Mary is thinking to herself, “Doesn’t anyone know what has happened here and if you do please tell me!” Finally, the resurrected Jesus says her name, Mary, and the recognition that her friend and Lord is alive floods her soul. Jesus tells Mary to go and report this to his brothers, meaning the disciples, which she does.
Now, we pick up with today’s reading: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
“That day” is the day of resurrection, Easter Day. And it is evening of that same day. The disciples are huddled in fear, afraid they might be next to be arrested and crucified, we suppose. Even after Mary Magdalene’s report of seeing Jesus, they remain locked behind closed doors. So this scene is Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples. Somehow Jesus simply appears in his resurrected body and says. “Peace be with you.”
Fear is a powerful motivator. When we encounter fear, we either fight or flight. The disciples reacted with flight and found them-selves locked away, isolated from the possibility of encountering the risen Christ. But just as Jesus did when he initially called each of them to follow him, Jesus seeks them out, even in there fear, and pronounces peace to them, not once, but three times in this passage.
Like the disciples, we also keep ourselves locked up because of fear, hearts locked up when we are afraid, afraid of being hurt, or being rejected, or simply afraid of the unknown situation or person. We hear the turn of the locks before we give ourselves the opportunity to be hurt again and with that turn of the lock we sometimes shut the door to the presence of Christ. But locked doors are no hindrance to the love of God. God can appear behind the locked doors of our hearts and whisper his word of peace in the midst of our fear. Oh, we may not hear it the first time, or even the second time, but the Holy Spirit continues to say to our hearts, “Peace, be still.”
I wonder if something else is feeding the disciples’ fear, maybe their own sense of shame, the shame of deserting Jesus in his need, the shame of disowning Jesus, the shame of being identified with a failure when their hopes and dreams had been destroyed by the cross. Shame causes us to hide, to lock the doors of our hearts so that no one can find us, so that no one can know the hidden depths of our self-cruelty. We don’t want anyone to know what is deep in the inner recesses of our souls so we keep them locked up. It takes a lot of emotional energy to keep those doors locked and to keep our true selves from being exposed and so we are tired, we are depressed, and we are anxious.
But again, Jesus comes in the midst of our fear of being found out and not only does he say, “Peace, be still,” but he says “you are forgiven.” You are forgiven for the shame that binds you, for the failure to live the life you think you should, for not being perfect! “You are forgiven!” And not only are you forgiven, but Jesus breathes on the disciples and us, and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
Which is simply Jesus saying “receive my Spirit,” be an extension of me to the world and take my ministry of reconciliation with you. Forgive those you come in contact the same way I have forgiven you. Where you find people locked away in fear and grief, speak my words of peace and forgiveness to them because you are my witnesses. Witnesses to my love and forgiveness. Share what I have given you! “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven!”
If we don’t forgive the sins of those who have hurt us, the only alternative is to retain those sins, to hold onto the hurt and the unforgiveness. But we have been given Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness. It is now our responsibility to forgive. To not forgive is to lock ourselves again behind a door of unforgiveness and seal it with the identity of victim. So how do we move from being the victim to being the empowered follower of Jesus that pronounces forgiveness?
There is no magic trick, there are no incantations which produce the change of heart we may so desperately desire, rather there is surrender and recognition. A surrender to the truth of our hurt and a recognition that we are simply passing on what has been pronounced by Jesus, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And finally, to hear Jesus say again to our hearts, “Peace, be still.”