The story of Jesus appearing to the frightened disciples and Thomas’s demands to see and touch the risen Jesus in John 20:19-31 is timely, as we prepare for Anzac Day, as it is in this context, I want to talk about Peace.
Jesus’ first words to the disciples after the crucifixion, the first time they see him after those harrowing events, are to offer them peace when he appears before them in the upper room of the house in which they are hiding.
At Easter we were told Mary and Mary Magdalene had gone to Jesus’ tomb at dawn on the first day after the Sabbath. It was the start of a new week. And, we were also reminded in the reading from Genesis, that God made the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh. So, on this day, we realise it is instead, the eighth day and the first day of the new creation, in which Jesus is risen.
Death has been defeated as Jesus died for all people, with love, forgiveness and in reconciliation. He died because he was not prepared to betray us. He was not prepared to give into temptation and use earthly power and violence to save the world. He was prepared to die, so that we might live.
So often when we think of Jesus, we wonder why God isn’t doing anything now, to save, to heal, to punish, to do what we think would make the world a better place. We struggle to see power in anyway other than power over others, coercive, violently applied with unavoidable collateral damage, it is a death dealing power, not life giving.
So, it is very, very intentional Jesus heralds in the new creation with the words ‘Peace be with you’.
Generally, we think of peace as being the absence of conflict and war. The presence of quiet and rest, everyone agreeing and getting along.
However, in Jesus’ offering of ‘peace’, this ‘peace’ has nothing to do with tranquillity, harmony and affability.
Instead, Jesus invites his disciples into the same activity of peace-making that characterised his whole life and mission; the same active work that led him to the cross, and it is an activity he gave directly to his disciples, including you and me.
God did not send Jesus into the world to confirm our comfortable status quo. Jesus’ peace is the sort that brings in the outcast and marginalised, and turns our conventions and polite society upside down, the first shall be last, the rich will find it harder than the poor with so much more to lose, the lion is invited to see the lamb as a neighbour, the Jew to speak to the Samaritan and the Pharisee to sit down and share a meal with a prostitute. It is this peacemaking work that got Jesus killed, and is still killing Christians today.
Jesus came into the upper room into an atmosphere of fear. The disciples had run away, from Jesus, the crucifixion, the soldiers, the retribution. The fear was real.
Yet Jesus came among the frightened disciples with his battered body. He did not come in some idealised youthful reincarnation. Thomas’s demand to see Jesus’ wounds before he would believe, was not that he didn’t believe in Jesus, but that he wanted to be reassured it was the real Jesus, the One who had borne the pain and rejection, the One who knew what it was to die, the One who had made that choice.
I don’t think it was a question about whether Jesus had risen, but whether it was Jesus! The one who is raised really is the one who is crucified, which means it is truly Jesus who sends us to do what God sent him to do – to give ourselves for the world, just as he did.
People are waiting to see the marks on us, not simply the marks in Jesus’ hands and side anymore. They wait instead to see the marks of the church, the wounds in our hands and our sides, the evidence we are really connected to the Jesus who was crucified and raised, through our suffering, our witness and faith in the face of death.
The Gospel points to what Thomas understands about the importance of the wounds to the resurrection. His refusal to believe his friends’ story about Jesus’ presence from the previous week is not intellectual scepticism but absolute anguish. The world’s evil is monstrous, and if the Christ whom it killed is not scarred by it and bearing it in newness, it is meaningless for those who suffer. And so, Jesus honours Thomas’s request.
The new creation with Jesus reveals our resurrection is exceedingly physical and like Jesus, we will show the battle scars we bear for God.
And I think, most radically for us to think about, heaven is not a place of forgetfulness, but of remembrance.
Somehow, if Jesus carries the scars and, one might assume, also the memory of the crucifixion, we can also assume both that terrible event and its memory must also have been taken up and transformed in the resurrection somehow.
The emphasis on Jesus’ wounds suggest if we do not see Jesus on the cross as well as in resurrected glory, we will not see him at all. And if this experience is so for Jesus, then it will be for us too.
In the end, it is only because Jesus remembers the crucifixion and the events leading up to it that in his resurrection he seeks out Peter with compassion and understanding, and offers him the three-fold chance to declare his love for Jesus and atone for his betrayal and three-fold denial. This forgiveness and reconciliation could not have happened without the memory.
Jesus’ welcomes with understanding Thomas’ demands to see and touch the wounds, showing those of us who need help to believe, if only we could dare enough, see enough, understand enough, despite the rational evidence to the contrary, despite the present anguish and grief of current loss with which we struggle, it is Jesus who is risen.
The encounter with Mary outside his tomb, sees Jesus giving her the Great Commission so she unexpectedly becomes the first among the apostles; and shows Jesus greeting with love all who wait patiently, quietly serving, mourning their losses, yet still prepared to give witness.
Whoever you are, whether it is Mary, Thomas or Peter, Jesus is ready and waiting for you in the locked room wherever you are hiding, in the garden, or on the road somewhere, wherever you are running.
And as we remember those young men who died at Gallipoli, it is worth remembering it was peace for which they were fighting, like thousands of men and women who have died in battles and wars and through violence around the world. We need to know in our wounded, grieving hearts, it is Jesus they have encountered, offering God’s peace as the new creation.
Their suffering and death is honoured for their sacrifices, in the full horror of war, the abuses of power which led to such violence and the dreadful destruction and grief which we continue to see around our world today.
As I think about Jesus’ commissioning of you and I as his followers like Mary and the other disciples, if we take this call and its consequences seriously, it is also clear we are not capable of following Jesus: the power of sin is simply too great.
By ourselves, we want to fit in, we want to maintain our social status, we want to preserve our privilege and good name, all of which are threatened by Jesus’ peacemaking activity.
Jesus came and stood among the disciples and breathed on them the Holy Spirit, transforming them from a motley band of followers into an extraordinary group of people who have transformed the world.
The Holy Spirit continues to be with us, making the impossible possible with the power of God.
It is not easy to be a peacemaker in the world marked by war in every corner. It is not easy to be a peacemaker in a society that incarcerates men and women and then forgets about them. It is not easy to be a peacemaker in a country where violence stalks our homes where many women and children’s lives are marred by violence and where people who are ‘different’ are rejected.
Nevertheless, the power of the Holy Spirit is with us, and Christians can and do follow Jesus in his peacemaking, trusting that Jesus is working in us. The glimpses of peace we are given continue to show to a desperate world that peace is possible, not simply as the absence of obvious conflict, but God’s peace is at large in God’s new creation. So, accept your commissioning with the Holy Spirit breathed upon you and “Peace Be with You.”