Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2015
Living God, risen Christ, open our minds that we may understand the scriptures and hear your holy Word; open our hearts that we may receive the love which makes us children of the divine; breathe your peace into us that we may be comforted by your Spirit and filled with your holy wisdom.
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “’Peace be with you.’”
The traditional blessing that concludes the Eucharist begins with the words, “The peace of God that passes all understanding . . . “ which are originally words from the apostle Paul. St Paul lists peace as one of the primary “fruits” (or signs) of the presence of the Spirit (Galatians 5). “Grace and peace to you” was one of his favourite greetings and blessings.
One of the signs of God’s presence is a deep sense of peace – not just the absence of overt violence or war, but a deep and powerful confidence that, as Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
One of the signs of separation from God is expressed powerfully by the prophet Isaiah:
“’Peace, peace, to the far and the near,’ says the Lord; ‘and I will heal them. But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (we might interpret “the wicked” as “those in a state of separation from God”). No doubt we all have seen those very people who bring agitation, unrest and division; who stir up mud and dirt in everything they do.
For Christians, peace is a direct result of being on the other side of the Resurrection, and having the firm conviction that death no longer has dominion – that death is not definitive, as it were. For those centred in Christ, peace is a deep serenity; it is the calm that overcomes the storms of life; it is the restoration to right relationship. For some who encountered Christ, peace was the result of healing, for others peace meant the end of animosity, while for others it was the result of being absolved from a guilty past. This gift of peace is not something that we negotiate or contrive or invent in any way – it is the gift of God, received by faith, and it is often when we know we are beyond our own limited capacities that we become open to that peace, that serenity that surpasses our understanding. The word “faith” is another term that describes this state of being and the means to move on from there.
We see this confidence in God’s presence and sovereignty in today’s reading from Acts, as the once bumbling Peter has become a conveyor of Christ’s power; an ambassador of Christ, an alter-Christus, standing up to the very authorities he once ran away from in terror. This lack of fear, and the courage to face into threat, is also a sign of the Spirit of the risen Christ at work in his disciples.
As Peter puts it in one of the earliest sermons on record, the central message of Jesus had to do with peace, and Jesus’ followers would become peacemakers because they would carry that powerfully strengthening and stabilizing sense of God’s presence within them. Jesus made it clear that when they went about as his emissaries, peace would be a gift or blessing that they would be able to bestow or choose to withhold (Matthew 10:13).
The disciples early on had a sense that the life of Christ could be received in a physical, tangible way, and was not just a matter of mental acceptance of beliefs or the accumulation of particular information about Jesus or God. Trying to make sense of it became the preoccupation of the church over the next several centuries (and ever since) but our theology was preceded by these profound experiences of people receiving in a physical way essence of Christ. Faith is by nature always something beyond belief, and Jesus breathing the spirit into the disciples is one aspect of that physical transfer of his life.
Last week, we heard about the risen Jesus breathing the Spirit into the disciples. Was this merely a kind of metaphor or figure of speech? Or did John mean to suggest some physical action such as breathing into them along the lines of mouth to mouth resuscitation? It is a good meditation simply to imagine ourselves opening up that way to Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Luke portrays a subsequent post-Resurrection appearance, and again the risen Christ comes as a bearer of peace. However it looked originally, the result was that Jesus’ mission of healing, compassion and reconciliation had not ended but was given new life in the apostles – in them, Jesus was not dead but living and active and able to reach out to the world even more extensively with God’s blessing and redemption.
The message was clear that the life that was in Jesus had a new lease on life through the apostles and all with whom they shared it. In us, as it was with them, God is still speaking and acting. And because they understood that this life, this joy, this peace, was not just for them, but for the whole world, it was imperative that it be shared – and as we read last week, there could be no sense of completeness until the Church realized the universal and even cosmic implications of this new life (1 John 1).
This life is in you. The Church, following the lead of Jesus, continues to use physical acts like Baptism, Eucharist, the laying on of hands, and anointing to share and convey this life. When we pass the Peace in Church, it is another expression and manifestation of the peace that comes directly from the risen Christ. You can choose to see it as a moment to talk about the weather or who won the hockey game, but for me it is a spiritual practice, a way of acting as Christ to others.
Tissot – Jesus eats breakfast with his disciples
The fact that Jesus shares a meal with the disciples is significant, pointing to the importance of allowing or expecting Christ to be present in the simplest of shared activities. It also pointed to the importance of the Eucharist going forward, but also to the importance of simply gathering and being together, because fellowship itself can be sacramental.
In both Luke and John, there is much focus on the symbolic act of eating in Christ’s presence because Christians were already finding in the Eucharist the meaning and inspiration and encouragement and peace that sustained them in that very presence despite the intense social and economic pressures of the time.
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Simply by virtue of being mentally and emotionally focused on Christ, his presence is manifested. That presence continues to manifest and be available to us every time we celebrate the Eucharist, every time we gather to pray, every time we sit expectantly before God’s word.
It is a peace we find only in the presence of Christ, as today’s Gospel implies, and so we must learn to cultivate that presence, as well as choosing to be a peaceful presence to an agitated and distressed world. As today’s Psalm says: “speak to your heart in silence” (Ps 4 – also translated as: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”).
Fr Joshua Makoul, an Orthodox priest, says: “Prayer is the single most important activity we can do to obtain the peace of God inside of us, and to reacquire it if lost. When we go into our room, close the door, and genuinely seek God, we are opening ourselves for an encounter with the peace of God. Our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The events in the world and at times even in our lives may seem chaotic and out of control, but they are not, for there is a beginning and an end. God is in control. When we bring ourselves into contact and dialogue with God, we are bringing balance and stability into our lives” (as in The Word Magazine, October, 2011).
Last week, we sang, “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.” The Peace that passes understanding is no flimsy, or superficial thing – it is a strength at the core of our being and doesn’t melt away in a moment. This is why it’s important to have an inner life that maintains that contact, but also, to recognize those ongoing areas of agitation in our lives and invite Christ in. For some of us, this might mean staying open to Christ’s presence while we’re driving, or on the golf course, for instance.
Peace is one of the great gifts or charisms of the Church and it is good if we are intentional about both cultivating and sharing peace. “Blessed are the peace-makers!” Christians, rooted in the peace that passes all understanding, are an essential non-anxious presence in a world driven by fear, anxiety, and a general sense of dread that expresses itself in cynicism. As we share the Peace today, and receive the Eucharist, let us determine to do as Christ did, and bring peace to every person and situation we encounter.
Grace and peace to you all, in the name of the risen Christ.
The Venerable Grant Rodgers+
Acts 3:12-19 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,
Psalm 4 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
1 John 3:1-7 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Luke 24:36b-48 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.