When Jesus came and appeared to the disciples, locked in the house for fear of the authorities, he says, “Peace be with you.” Good thing right? Sounds nice! What could be wrong with Jesus bringing peace? Jesus is the Prince of Peace, we say. I know, I always have that peaceful feeling, especially at Christmas time. And yet, here at Easter time, Jesus comes as a crucified Savior. What kind of a Prince of Peace is this? What does peace look like to you?
A pastor friend of mine said, he never before had a dream about what to preach on Sunday morning, except once, when this gospel text came up, and he ending up preaching one his most powerful sermons ever. The dream he had was really a series of nightmares about executions, which woke him up suddenly. And what occurred to him from the dream was something about Thomas’s unbelief. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe that Jesus could be raised. After all, he had been there when Jesus had raised Lazarus, and he hadn’t objected that day. What Thomas couldn’t believe, was that Jesus, or anyone could be resurrected, after having been executed in such a shameful way, on the cross.
The cross of course was a public humiliation that was designed by the Romans to discredit enemies of the state, and anyone they wanted to make an example of. Thomas represents a belief that all the disciples had, really: They expected Jesus to triumph – somehow, some way, to become the anointed king of Israel, to be enthroned in the Temple and liberate the Israelites from their Roman occupiers. They had all stuck by Jesus, right up until the moment he told Peter to put his sword away, after he cut off the ear of the High Priest’s slave in the Garden of Gethsemane, and let himself be arrested, bound, and led away for trial. That’s when the humiliation began. The cross was just the icing on the cake. Thomas doesn’t just want to see Jesus in order to believe in the resurrection, he demands to see the marks of his execution, the scars in his hands and his pierced side. He couldn’t get that shame out of his mind! How could one who looked so powerless against the superior fire-power of the Romans, in those great Three Days, actually be the one who can save us from it?
But when Jesus returned, on this 2nd Sunday of Easter, and said once again, “Peace be with you,” and invited Thomas to put his finger in the wound of his hands, and to reach out and thrust his hand in his side, Thomas is overwhelmed with a new vision, and the very presence of his resurrected God. Jesus is the same Teacher the disciples knew, but at the same time, he is also a new Messiah, one that they didn’t expect! Jesus was raised by God in spite of the shame he endured on the cross, to conquer it.
It is in the cross and resurrection that we are brought face to face with “peace.” The peace of God, and the peace that Jesus greets us with, the very breath of the Holy Spirit, which is not the same as the way of peace we have been taught, by the ruler of this world. We have been taught that the cure for violence, is to uphold yet another act of violence, one that we justify, in the name of “a sacred order,” which does bring a kind of temporary peace. This is the temptation of the High Priest who says of Jesus, “it is better to sacrifice one for the sake of all.” We call this, scapegoating, or “sacred violence.”
But, by going to the cross, Jesus reveals a third way, God’s way of non-retaliation, that opens the world to true peace. And the cross also reveals how sacred violence, whether in acts of war, or in domestic violence, or in bullying a neighbor – all acts of power that wield control or terror – only create more violence, not peace. And so, as my friend Pastor Nuechterlein says, “The resurrection of the one whom we executed puts us face to face with absolutely the most difficult thing for us to believe – namely, that the only way to ultimately cure violence is to completely refrain from doing it, even if it means submitting to it, revealing its meaninglessness compared to the Creator’s power of life.” Jesus’ words, “peace be with you,” can be powerfully dangerous indeed.
How do you view peace? Can any of us have peace, when our neighbor or anyone else in the world is still entombed by violence or fear? Is it just a coincidence that Jesus’ first greeting to his fearful, yet somehow hopeful disciples, is “peace be with you?” Jesus brings them peace in his resurrected body, a body they recognize by the mark of the nails in his hands and his riven side, marks of his non-retaliation, redeemed and raised up as the first born of God’s new kingdom.
It’s curious to me that after the blood and destruction of a war, there is still no peace until all parties sit down to negotiate terms for how they must now live together. And there is no breaking the cycles of domestic violence until abusers or abused sit down and talk with a mediator or therapist, and come to see and learn a third way they never saw before. Words, it seems to me, are stronger than bullets, and batterings, and fear. Words can create new life and open worlds we did not see before. God created the world by God’s powerful word. Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you,” can change our lives still.
The Jesus who appears to us, locked in our rooms of fear and unbelief, brings hope and a way out. Jesus opens his wounded hands to us, and invites us to touch and see him, in order that we can also touch and feel God’s whole wounded world. Jesus empowers us to be able to face up to the deep wounds of violence in our lives, he unlocks the doors of grief, despair and fear, and leads us out to be true disciples of peace, ambassadors of reconciliation and forgiveness in a broken world. Jesus invites us to eat the broken bread of communion, his broken body, that we may be filled with “life in his name.”