Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, King
City, Ontario. The Second Sunday of Easter, 24 April, 2022.
Acts 5: 27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31
19 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.”
Sharing of the Peace, and about how that action in the middle of our service
becomes hugely meaningful in light of today’s gospel reading from St. John.
The risen Jesus appearing to his disciples, his threefold greeting
“Peace be with you”, and the grace, forgiveness, and affirmation inherent in
this greeting to these disciples who abandoned and betrayed Jesus before his
death, all help us understand the special greeting that we exchange right in
the middle of our Sunday service.
greet one another, is a relatively new in Anglican worship. Some
of you will remember that in the old Book of Common Prayer, there was a formal
exchange between the priest and people just after the Prayer of Consecration:
People. And also with you. (p. 83)
just after the confession and absolution. The words were the same as the
BCP, but the BAS liturgy encouraged the people to “greet one another in the
name of the Lord”.
in grand stone cathedrals where people sat as far apart from one another as
they could, and exchanged brief glances and slight nods at one another during
the Peace. Other parishes are much more exuberant. People shake
hands, hug, chat, seek out and welcome strangers, and it often takes a long
time to call you back to order. I
suspect that you at All Saints were the chatty. Huggy type before Covid, and
will be afterwards.
moments where our extrovert and introvert personalities are clearly on display.
The important thing is what we _say_ during the Peace. Most of us say something like “God’s peace be
with you” or “The peace of Christ” or just “peace”. Why do we use
these words rather than a phrase that we might say if we greeted one another on
the street, like “It’s nice to see you” or “how are you” or “how’s it going?”
and today’s gospel. What happens between the risen Christ and his
disciples in that room makes it possible for us to say these words to one
another. The fact that Christ says “peace be with you” to these people
huddled behind a locked door allows them to let go of their fear and guilt and
start the process of becoming the church. Christ’s saying “peace
be with you” gives the disciples, and us, a way to imagine our own identities
as church, as an Easter people. So, the words “Peace be with you” in our
greetings during the liturgy are important because peace is Christ’s great gift
to the disciples in John 20, and to us today.
Let’s take a moment to remember the context of today’s gospel, to better
see how powerful Jesus’ words of peace are to the disciples. In the
first half of John 20, Mary Magdalene has seen Jesus in the garden, outside his
tomb, and has told the disciples about her meeting him. We would think
that they might have been filled with hope and joy by Mary’s report, and that
they might be out searching for the risen Christ, but to the contrary they are
barricaded behind locked doors. We are told that the disciples are
fearful for their lives; certainly the detail that it is nighttime, when
they would be most fearful is relevant.
grief, and mourning. He passes through the locked door as if
to say that their fear and self-protectiveness don’t matter. He comes to
confirm the words of Mary Magdalene and the hope which the disciples don’t seem
to allow themselves to believe. He comes despite his own death, in his
physical body with the wounds still on him, and he says “Peace be with you” and
when he says these words, he says let go of your fear, for fear and grief and
mourning and the dark of night have lost their power over me and over
action in the liturgy takes its meaning because of the resurrection
of Christ. We share the Peace in a place where there may be memories and
even ghosts for some of us. We can look around this church and see where
saints now departed used to sit, but
when we say “Peace be with you”, we are reminding one anther that we are an
Easter people, following the same Christ who rose from the grave and who undid
the power of death. We are reminding ourselves to let go of our fears, of
our concerns for the seemingly unforgiving power of age and mortality over our
bodies, and to remind one another that as the Lord is risen, so those we love
and mourn are safe in his keeping, and that we will see them again on the day
of resurrection. By saying “Peace be with you”, we say, “May life, and
hope, and joy, and promise, be with you”.
of Jesus in the locked room is the context of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We know from the passion stories of the other gospels that the disciples
have let Jesus down in many ways. They could not stay awake in the garden
when he asked them to keep watch with him, they deserted him when he was
arrested, and Peter, who swore that he would never abandon Jesus, denied
knowing Jesus three times. Presumably the disciples, particularly Peter,
are feeling guilt and remorse as well as grief, and yet when Jesus comes he
does not accuse or reproach them. His words “Peace be with you”
are words of forgiveness – he gives the disciples peace from guilt and
it is connected to the church’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation.
When Jesus says to the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of man, they
are forgiven them if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:23)
he is also speaking to us. Our act of sharing the Peace comes
after the confession and absolution. The knowledge that we as imperfect
people are forgiven our sins allows us to face on another and to remind us that
we all enjoy that same grace and love. All of the frictions that
are part of church life – our ways of stepping on one another’s toes, saying
unkind or impatient words, our foolish rivalries over our roles and ministries
– these all must be set aside if we are truly to receive the Peace that Christ
gives us from our own sin and guilt. By saying “Peace be with
you”, we say “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, and I forgive you for what you have
Jesus in the locked room is the context of doubt and imperfect belief.
Thomas is the one disciple who cannot believe, despite the testimony of
Mary Magdalene who saw Jesus in the garden and the disciples who saw him
previously in the locked room. He has essentially called his friends
liars, or at best, deluded. And so when Jesus says “Peace be with you”
the third time, it seems directed specifically to Thomas and to his
scepticism. His words “Peace be with you” are again words of forgiveness,
but also words of hope and encouragement, as if to say, “Thomas, you will
believe”, and they lead to Thomas making the most fulsome profession of faith
of anyone in the gospels, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
it is connected to our doubts as much as to our faith. We may call
ourselves a people of faith, but our faith is not uniform. Not all of us
may believe as readily, or as completely, as do those around us, but when we say “Peace be with you”, we
are saying that it’s ok to be where you are in you own journey of faith.
The exchange of “Peace be with you” removes our temptation to apply some sort
of faith test and to want to think that we have to be some sort of
super-believer. The words “Peace be with you” gives those who need it
permission to be a Thomas. For those who are doubtful, to hear and
receive the words “Peace be with you” is to be told that it’s ok to be doubtful,
that lack of faith is not a sin, but rather is merely human. At the same
time, the words “Peace be with you” opens the possibility that the work of the
Holy Spirit will bring a person to also say, with Thomas, “my Lord and my God”,
and for the doubtful this may be exactly the sort of encouragement they one day
and better understand this important part of the liturgy. Of course there is the Hebrew sense of peace as shalom, the fundamental value and gift of the kingdom of God. Jesus’
breathing on the disciples and his words “Receive the holy spirit” remind us of
the vision of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel (37:1-14), or of the story
of Pentecost (Acts 2), which speak to the Holy Spirit’s work of revival and
unification which make the church possible. Sharing the peace can draw
us out of isolation and into community, it brings us together regardless of age
or race or class, and makes us one. But in the light of John 20,
we see the Sharing of the Peace as what it is, a sign of grace from the God who
loves us, forgives us, gathers us together and empowers us to go on – and these
are things that we can do for one another when we turn to them, extend a hand,
and say “Peace be with you”.