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John 20:19-31 • May 1, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Walk with me through a few elements of worship that I think many of you will quickly know the response to.
Here we go –
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And also with you.
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
Go in peace to serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
And here is the one that I think is the most difficult one of all.
Are you ready for it? The peace of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you.
Thank you and very good. And yes I did in fact say that the last one was the most difficult one of all. Don’t blow me off or tune me out yet, give me a little time to unpack that thought today.
It is sometimes easier for us to just move through worship and even though you may be physically present, you are far from actually being present. We offer responses during worship like “and also with you” or “hear our prayer” and fail to even remotely engage with what we are doing or saying. If you’ve ever felt like that, I’m glad. And I want you to know that you’re not alone in that feeling – I can think of a few times when I’ve been there myself.
Jesus offers the greeting, “Peace be with you,” three times in today’s gospel reading. On one level, this was a common greeting in Jesus’ day. Similar to us saying “hello” or “sup” to someone today. But it struck me in a new way today. I think his greeting here is much more significant that simply saying, “Hi guys. What’cha doin’?”
Jesus talks about peace at other times in John’s gospel. In chapter 14, verse 27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” In chapter 16, verse 33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
So I do not believe that Jesus’ greeting in our gospel reading today is just a simple greeting of “hello” and I am more convinced than ever before that our sharing of the peace in worship each week is WAY more than simply saying “hi” to one another or “good morning, it’s nice to see you.”
I’ve been privileged over the past few years to be invited into conversations, planning, and teaching in various settings regarding worship in the ELCA and the ways in which local congregations engage in worship each week. I think the work being done across the ELCA provides congregation’s like ours with valuable insights into worship rituals like sharing of the peace.
Listen to these insights – “The peace is a transitional point in the service standing between the proclamation of the word and the sharing of the Lord’s Supper.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders’ Desk Edition, pg. 21)
Sharing God’s peace is not simply offering a friendly hello to those sitting around you. Sharing God’s peace is not a time for catching up on news with your neighbor or for reminding someone about an upcoming meeting.
Sharing God’s peace with one another is an act of reconciliation. It is an opportunity for God’s people to be reconciled with one another. It is a time to set aside our human differences and to recognize and enact our baptismal unity as children of God.
Insights like this are why Jesus’ words of peace can be so powerful for us today. And they are even more powerful when heard in the midst of Jesus’ statement to the disciples in verse 23. In that verse Jesus says to the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
In the book Wounded Lord: Reading John Through the Eyes of Thomas, theologian Robert Smith writes, “In this final narrative in the body of his gospel, the evangelist (the writer of the Gospel of John) declares that the resurrected Jesus continues to be the crucified Jesus. The Easter Jesus still bears in hands and side the marks of his cruel wounding. His hands and side have not healed. Indeed the wounds will never go away. The Thomas story announces that the universe is upheld in wounded hands of unimaginably deep love and compassion.
Thomas’ final words are his confession: ‘My Lord and my God.’ It is too easily overlooked that Thomas addresses these words to the One who displays not just living hands and side or solid hands and side but wounded hands and side. Through this narrative of Thomas, the evangelist is sharing his own faith that he will not confess as Lord and God any figure, no matter how marvelous or mighty, who lacks wounds.
The crucified and resurrected Jesus is Lord and God. He is God in God’s turning to the world. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. (10:38) Whoever has seen and heard the Son with his wounds has seen and heard ‘the Father’ (14:9).
Jesus comments on Thomas’ confession and proceeds by pronouncing ‘Blessed’ all those in future generations who will come to share the faith of Thomas without the benefit of laying hands or eyes upon Jesus. Blessed are those who will come to faith simply on the basis of the story about Jesus.” (pg. 191)
The story about Jesus that we celebrate in worship extends peace from God to far more than a morning greeting. The story about Jesus forgives all sin. The story about Jesus brings restoration and healing to all relationships. The story about Jesus does not ignore the wounds we carry or the wounds we have caused others to receive. The story about Jesus is given to you and me in love, as a gift, that you and I receive each and every time we hear the words, “Peace be with you.”
Exchanging peace with each other gathers us together as a community of faith not limited by which worship service we attend or which church we belong to or what style of music we think is best. Exchanging the peace with each other unites us in the grace and love of God as brothers and sisters that is not the result of how good of student you were in school, how much money you make, or which political party you think is best.
Our challenge from Jesus today is the same as it was for his disciples just a few days after the resurrection. As the community of faith called Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, we are gathered in worship on this day in the name of the risen Jesus Christ, wounds and all. We are called and sent to live in the gift that Christ’s peace offers you and me not only today, but every day.
The peace of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you.
Let’s continue and in many ways begin our journey of peace together by standing and offering a greeting of Christ’s peace to brothers and sisters in Christ who are gathered around you.