Easter 2, Year A
The following sermon was preached by Jordan Miller, LSTC M.Div. senior, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, April 3, 2008.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
"Peace be with you." This is what Jesus says to the first disciples on the day of his resurrection, the day that he rose from the tomb. On the evening of that same day, the disciples were gathered behind the locked doors of the house where they met. There is no way to know what they were doing. Maybe they were huddled in fear, or discussing the events of the past week with utter astonishment. Maybe, as we heard on Monday, they were filled with faith. Whatever the case may be, I think that it is safe to say that not one of them expected what happened next. All of a sudden, in their very midst, Jesus comes, stands among them, and says, "Peace be with you."
What is this peace that Jesus brings to his disciples? Often, when we think of peace, we think of it in conjunction with quietness, stillness, and passivity. Peace is seen as a feeling, or something that happens in places apart from our daily lives, when we have lots of time to contemplate, or as a goal that is too seldom attained. I do not think that this is the kind of peace that Jesus brought to his disciples in today's gospel. He does not call them to sit and ponder the mysteries of life. Instead, in his next breath, Jesus sends the disciples back out into the world. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you," he says to them. We know that Jesus was sent out into a world that was full of need, dissention, and violence, as well as hope, goodness, and beauty—much like our world today. When he appears to his disciples after his resurrection, he sends them back out into this very same world—the world that had misunderstood Jesus' message and had rejected him—this very same world for which Jesus had died. As the disciples go back into the world, Jesus does not promise to keep them insulated from trouble, or that they will necessarily be successful, or that they will always like what they are doing. He gives them something more lasting. Instead of guaranteeing their temporary happiness or success, he sends them out with his strenuous peace—a peace that guarantees that he will be with them every step of the way.
This peace that Jesus gives to the disciples is a strenuous peace because it finds it fullest expression not in quiet moments of contemplation, but in the very thick of engagement with life and all of its needs, dissention, violence, hope, goodness, and beauty. There is no promise that the disciples will have trouble-free lives, but Jesus does promise to be with them no matter what. He gives them the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide them in his absence, and the promise that his strenuous peace will be with them.
And what about us? During this time of year, we are very aware that Jesus is sending us out into the world, too. As the semester winds down, we are finding out where we will be sent for CPE, internship, and first call. For these things, we may be literally sent far and wide across the country and even the world. Even if we are staying in Chicago, we still may find that the rhythm of life shifts when the academic year draws to a close. This new and different rhythm of life may be something that we welcome, or it may be something that we approach with anxiety. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that we have mixed feelings as we look at the many changes that are coming our way—we are excited and unsure about what the future will bring, all at once.
The disciples probably also had mixed feelings about being sent out by Jesus. For them, it was likely a little bit scary to be sent back out into their world of need, dissention, and violence, even with all of its goodness, hope, and beauty. What if the world rejected their message of hope and good news, like it rejected Jesus? And yet, at the same time, what a joy it must have been for the disciples to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the promise that the strenuous peace of Jesus would be there with them, no matter what they encountered. This strenuous peace accompanied them as they traveled near and far, proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They found that Jesus was with them in a deep, tangible way as they went out to engage their world, even when they found frustration or resistance. The strenuous peace of Jesus Christ never left them.
I believe that, like the disciples, most of us probably also have mixed feelings about being sent out by Jesus. As we look at the changes that are coming our way, we may be excited about the chance to get to use our ministry skills in some very practical ways. At the same time, we may feel upset or nervous about being sent out in the world to interact with people that we may not want to meet, in places that we might not be excited about. Because of this, maybe Jesus' promise of peace isn't exactly what we hope to hear at this point in our journeys. We might prefer to hear that everything is going to turn out the way that we want it to, that we won't have to face many difficult situations, or that everyone will always be supportive of our ministry. We hope for these things because we are human. And yet, the strenuous peace of Christ meets us in our humanity, sending us out to proclaim the gospel, not on our own, but knowing that Christ's peace is ever with us.
This peace of Christ surrounds, uplifts, and accompanies us wherever we go, and finds its fullest expression when we engage with all of the joys and challenges of life. It is through this peace that God in Jesus Christ shows each of us the path of life, and provides us with fullness of joy in God's presence, as the psalmist says. This is the peace that Jesus gave to his disciples then and gives to us now. This strenuous peace accompanies us no matter what. It is with us as we face the joys that the future will hold and the challenges that it is sure to bring. The peace of the Lord be with you always. Amen.