Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36b-48
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
The way our cycle of readings works is that we dip in and out of the action. That is particularly true of our gospel today. It is Luke’s gospel and as with all the accounts of the resurrection it is slightly different. Just to recap in Luke’s version of these events. The women – this time a whole group of them have been to the tomb. They encountered the stone rolled away and two men in dazzling clothes. These two tell the women Jesus has risen. The women go back and tell the disciples – who think this is an idle tale! Peter goes to look for himself in the tomb and sees it empty. He goes back home feeling amazed at the turn of events.
Meanwhile 2 of the disciples split from the rest to walk to Emmaus. This is a village about 7 miles away. They meet a stranger on the road and the two talk with him. The stranger explains the whole thing to them again as they walk – starting with Moses and the prophets. The 2 disciples encourage the stranger to stay and eat with them when they get to their destination. They recognise it is Jesus as he breaks the bread (and at that point Jesus disappears), and then even though they have only just arrived they set out back to Jerusalem to find the other disciples.
We have seen the Lord they said – as they get back and meet with the other disciples. The two were just explaining all that had happened and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. This is the point where our reading today started just after while they were talking about this. The reading today begins Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
This must have been quite a moment. Into this moment Jesus brings a deep sense of the peace of God. Let’s pause the action there for a moment and explore this peace of God before we look at what happens next.
The peace of God is easy to say but not particularly easy to explain. It is a sense of calm and the presence of God with us. It is a sense of the love God has for us, for our good and for our flourishing. We experience it whether the going is easy or the going is tough. We probably experience glimpses of it and moments in this life – one day we will know the peace of God more fully face to face. When people are having a tough time I regularly pray for the peace of God to fill their hearts or to surround them with that peace. I am trying to use words, rather clumsily in all probability, to describe the love God has for each of us. This is something right now we particularly should be praying for Elizabeth our Queen and the Royal family. Praying for the peace of God to fill her heart and to surround them all with peace. Here is a suitable prayer – please pause and pray
Merciful God, be close to all who mourn, especially The Queen and all members of the Royal Family. May they know the hope of your promises, the comfort of your love, and surround them all with your peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We have also spent many years greeting each other with a handshake or hug of peace. It grieves me that we can’t do this at the moment, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The peace reflects the calm assurance that what God is doing is best. The peace comes from knowing that God is in control, causing all things to “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
One of the other origins of sharing the peace as is our custom is to ensure we are at one with our brothers and sisters. It affords us an opportunity to put things right too before we move into sharing the body and blood of Jesus at communion. Some of the introductions to the peace puts this emphasis very clearly – for example – Let love be genuine. Never pay back evil for evil. As far as it lies with you, live at peace with everyone. OR We are the body of Christ.
In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.
Let’s leave these thoughts here for a moment and return to the scene described in Luke where we paused earlier. Jesus says peace be with you, but peace is far from the disciples’ initial reaction. Frankly they are startled and terrified and the initial reaction is they think they are seeing a ghost. In the present, in the moment and after the trauma they had experienced, this is an understandable and very human response.
Jesus does three things at this point to address the fear:-
First – he acknowledges their emotional response with re-assurance. Addressing both the fear and what for him is the root of it the doubts in their hearts.
Second – he establishes that he is with them physically in three different ways.
First, look at me, he particularly draws attention to his hands and feet where the scars would have been
Second, touch me – as he is flesh and bones and ghosts are not!
Third, because after that he could still sense both joy and disbelief in the room and with Luke with the medical spin in his gospel he says – Watch me eat. Then he eats broiled fish in front of them because in their understanding ghosts can’t eat.
This feels quite confronting to me – looking, touching and watching Jesus eat. He is trying to shake them into this new reality, shake off the doubt, and shake in the joy that he is there fully in person standing amongst them. It is worth imagining ourselves in this position and feeling the joy rising in us at the realisation of the wonder God has done. Going back to first principles and recapturing the purpose of the resurrection for us all.
The third thing Jesus does to address the fear – remembering that this comes last, and after all of the reassurance and active stuff I have just been describing. Jesus explains again what has happened and I suspect at much greater length than we have written here. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is clearer about what is coming before the cross. He is now reminding them what he said and how it fits into the story of the people of God.
He reminds them of their key role as witnesses and particularly about the importance of repentance and forgiveness of sins. In a way this tunes into what I was saying earlier about the peace of God and our reconciliation with each other. It is important we recognise in the light of the resurrection, how we lean into God’s love for us through his powerful forgiveness when we repent of our wrongdoings and short comings. We are set right with God by the power of the resurrection. This isn’t deserved or earned by us, but reflects the loving heart of Jesus for us. Our commitment to the peace of God then must be to be witnesses to it in our hearts and lives. Seeking the peace of God and being channels of the peace of God to those around us Amen
To finish I strongly recommend you listen to the John Rutter anthem at this point – which I will play in Church – Deep peace (Gaelic Blessing)– this is the link to a version sung by Libera
References The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, Some of the text is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 Copyright acknowledgement Some material included is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020