On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
It is Sunday evening, the third day after Jesus died. The disciples are gathered together in fear and confusion. Unsure of their next step. The one they thought Messiah, dead and buried – executed like a common criminal and lying in a tomb. Their leader gone and what remained was an overwhelming sense of shame because they knew they had deserted Jesus in his hour of need. And now they lived in fear. Fear of the next knock on the door. Fear of having left everything to follow Jesus…now what? A fear that seeps into the deepest regions of their being, hardening hearts and stiffening limbs; locking doors.
Yes, Jesus told them multiple times that he would rise on the third day, but fear has its own way of drowning hope. And then Hope stands among them, in the midst of their fear. We proclaim “Alleluia He is Risen” for all we have is hope. Perhaps in that split second suspended before words, their fear leads them down a different path. Maybe Jesus is angry with them for abandoning him; Peter most of all. Maybe Jesus is about to say, “Where were you when I needed you? What kind of faithful disciples are you, anyway? Why did you run out on me?” Fear has its own way of drowning hope.
Can’t they see the truth of the Resurrection right in front of them? A heart full of fear seeks safety, not truth. A heart full of fear locks the door, seeking the safety of an upper room. But Hope, Love, Mercy seeks a different way. And on this Easter evening the disciples’ fears come face-to-face with Jesus offering Divine Mercy, grace without end, no pre-conditions – all contained in the simple words: “Peace be with you.” And then breathes upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John’s Pentecost, the Spirit comes not with wind and flame but with Jesus’ own breath, the life-force of one raised from the dead who tells them to go out in hope to be peace and forgiveness and love for the world.
And they did, all the way to the ends of the earth. And this is our story, the one we are called to tell and retell. The story that unfolds on the same day Jesus rose from the dead. A day that began “early in the morning, while it was still dark…” a great mystery unfolding. No sunlight illuminated the event. No human being witnessed it. And even now, two thousand years later, no human narrative can contain it all, but nonetheless we are called to carry the story.
And in that story is the power of Hope, mercy for our times, brought to our Upper Rooms. Fearful, doubting, troubled, uncertain, people frozen behind our own doors – door visible and doors unseen. The narrative handed on from one generation to the next. A narrative that carries the same gifts of mercy, grace and forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, a gift that limbers up our minds and our hearts, calling them from hearts of stone to hearts full of love. Moving doubt to trust, moving frozen limbs into bodies and souls willing to venture into life. That’s why Jesus sends us out into the world, to put our hands on the marks of its suffering, to bring good news and hope to all of God’s children. Even though we have not “seen” as did the apostles, we have received the story. The power of that moment is carried – has been carried across the centuries to this moment – to us.
We who a week after Easter Sunday are already back to our life as usual. Back to our lives with their own sources of fear – an ongoing national dialogue in which the primary currency seems to be fear. Fear that there is a crime wave coming across our borders. Fear that another ‘they’ want to take away our rights, our guns, our livelihoods. Fear that the next bombing could be us. Fear that vaccines harm our children. Fear that this economic recovery will bust and we will relive 2008. Fear a loved one will be sent overseas to the wars that don’t seem to end. Sadly, the list of modern societal fears is long.
Then there are our personal fears – health problems, home problems, school problems, too much work, not enough work, too much worry, too much coming at us, so much to run away from, so much to fear. As a person of faith, what are we to do? We can run to the safe place, behind the locked door. Or we can again receive and understand this story: that whatever overwhelms us this morning, this week – each day God comes to us in the midst of our fear and says, “Peace be with you.”
The Divine Mercy comes to us. Whatever doubts churn in our minds, whatever sins trouble our consciences, whatever pain and worry bind us up, whatever walls we have put up or doors we have locked securely, God comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.” Whatever hunger and need we feel deep in our souls, God calls us to this table, feeds us with his precious Body and Blood, and sends us out into the world, out from behind the locked doors to be justice and peace, salt and light, hope for the world. We can do it, you know, we can do it, if we keep our eyes open, our minds limber, and our hearts soft and willing to love, and let ourselves be overwhelmed by the love of God. And open the door.
Because if we don’t … then what good is Divine Mercy if we remain locked in our own upper rooms and are merciful to no one. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
We are so loved by God. And as God sent Jesus into the world, this day, God sends us. To enter the world with love in our hearts and these words on our lips: “Peace be with you.” To be love, to be mercy and to forgiveness for a fearful world.
“Peace be with you.” We are sent.