In Darkness of Night – an “Unsettling” Peace

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.”
(John 20:19)

Where do I begin? It has been extraordinary to claim these words at this time. He is Risen! Notwithstanding empty sanctuaries and church building, the people of God gathered. Friends – we gathered affirming the halleluiahs that Christ the Lord is risen indeed. Virtual images on our screens – bringing together even more people than we could have hoped for – joining us with friends and families around the world.

In what would have been unimaginable just two months ago, the church across traditions and continents boldly acknowledged that the true church is not defined by our buildings. Christianity affirmed that our identity is instead defined by our conviction that we – you and I – are the church – the “ecclesia.” We affirmed that the pandemic would not compromise our distinctiveness. We leaned into our understanding that we, the church, have a hope to offer -a hope that would not be contained by the tomb 2,000 years ago and cannot be contained by the coronavirus that threatens our reality today.

And like that very first Easter morning, this resurrection declaration is not the end of the story. It is but the beginning of a journey that continues with us today – one that in many ways shares the complexity of emotions of those gathered disciples we meet in the Gospel of John. They are gathered in a locked room when it was evening. Like the artist he is, the writer of John uses light, or in this case darkness, as a way of reminding us that the disciples were hiding. They are in a locked room – indicating that in spite of their learning or experiencing the power of the resurrection, they were afraid. I imagine they were confused, uncertain, even while believing that Jesus was resurrected.

And then Jesus appears –through locked doors – ghost-like in my mind – and what does he say? “Peace be with you!” In the midst of all that is unsettling, in the midst of grief, fear, anxiety, comingled with the hope of their wavering faith – he offers these words to an “unsettled” people – “Peace be with you.” The choice of these first words convict me in ways that cause me to pause. They make me call into question the current focus of my mind and heart.

Fast forward to us today. Perhaps we can relate to the emotions of those gathered in that locked room. We find ourselves in the uncertainty of the reality before us. When will this pandemic be over? How many more will die? Why is this happening? Will I lose my job? Will we make our budgets? Could all this have been avoided? The questions are many – ultimately leading us to the more practical questions – when will we be able to leave these locked rooms? When will we be able to gather again? When can we see one another in person? I must admit that I am yearning for the answer to these questions. For the truth is- I miss you. I miss your presence – the energy and joy you bring into the spaces in which we meet. I miss our spontaneous conversations. I am grateful for the technology that has allowed us to continue to engage and encourage us to boldly move forward in ministry – but ultimately the two-dimensional screens cannot replace what happens when we gather together – even in uncertain times.

Jesus’ unexpected words of blessing, “Peace be with you,” echoes and sustains us across centuries. His words break into the locked spaces in which we find ourselves. Jesus’ words break into the depths of our grief and fears – even today. It is not a peace that magically makes all the challenges go away. It is not a peace that ensures a particular outcome. It is instead a peace that dares believe in the hope of the resurrection – even when the journey before us in uncharted and uncertain.

I am clearly not certain about the weeks and months before us. But I am certain the same Jesus who broke into the unsettling reality of that locked room 2,000 years ago is breaking into our disconcerting reality today – breathing upon us the Holy Spirit and empowering us to keep on the journey. Jesus is sending us out into the world beyond our locked realities and calling us out in new and creative ways for a time such as this. So, with profound trepidation and yet profound conviction, I end these reflections simply trusting that the resurrected Jesus will meet us wherever we find ourselves.

My dearest sisters and brothers faithfully serving the church as ministers of Word and Sacrament, as ruling elders, as deacons, as trustees, as teachers, as custodians, as ushers; as those serving as chaplains; as those being the church in the world – in hospitals, nursing homes, emergency rooms, as first responders; in community ministries – to all of you who are holding fast to your faith in these unsettling times – may we together allow those words of the resurrected Christ break into the hidden and locked spaces of our realities –“Peace be with you!”