Peace with Us

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 2:14, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,[1] Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” John 20:19.

This Easter has seemed more like Passover to me. Rather than celebrating in a sanctuary surrounded by believers, we had our Easter celebration at home as a family. While the angel of death breathed its threats of sickness and death over all manner of media and the death statistics climbed throughout the world, we ate our meal with the hope and expectation of salvation-a life both here and in the days to come that is more than mere survival. Though alone in our home, we knew that we were recalling and reliving the same narrative shared by millions of households like our own. So though very much alone, we were far from lonely. This night was for us unlike all other nights.

Perhaps that was something like what the disciples were experiencing on that first Easter Sunday spent sheltering in place behind locked doors. Their fear was justified. Rome had few compunctions when it came to dealing with persons it considered a threat to its dominance. Jesus’ crucifixion made that quite clear. People known to have been closely associated with Jesus were wise to keep a “safe social distance” from everyone else on the street. Yet into the heart of this den of fear, Jesus appears with a massage: “Peace be with you.” Peace in the midst of mortal danger.

Peace is the antithesis of fear. Peace is the posture of a heart that rejects fear in favor of faith. And let us be clear, faith is not to be confused with foolhardy recklessness. Religious leaders who encourage their congregations to meet for worship, notwithstanding the danger of increasing the risk of infection for themselves and others, are not demonstrating faith. To the contrary, they have fallen prey to the devil’s timeless invitation to “prove their faith” by throwing themselves from the pinnacle of the temple into the hands of God’s protecting angels. Jesus rebuked that temptation and so should we.

At the same time, however, faith does not shy away from taking risks for the sake of one’s neighbor. That is why we have grocers, garbage collectors, lab technicians, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, soldiers and ambulance drivers who are exposing themselves daily to infection by coronavirus in order to maximize safety for the rest of us. That is why several small businesses in my community are taking out loans to continue the salaries and benefits of their workers during the current shut down. Disciples of Jesus understand that caring for their neighbors, especially those considered “the least” among us, puts them at risk-and they are at peace with that.

This is indeed an age when, as poet Wendell Berry tells us, “it seems too difficult to think of the life of a man grown whole in the world, at peace and in place.” Yet that is precisely who Jesus was and is. For Jesus, his heavenly Father’s determination to redeem the world was more real than the powers intent on ruining it. He understood that eternal life, that is, living out concretely the love binding the Trinity as one and that spills like healing balm into all of creation far surpases the mere prospect of survival. Knowing Jesus is to leave behind the craven fear that sets us at each other’s throats and diminishes our common humanity. It is to be at peace.

To Think of the Life of a Man

In a time that breaks
in cutting pieces all around,
when men, voiceless
against the thing-ridden men,
set themselves on fire, it seems
too difficult and rare
to think of the life of a man
grown whole in the world,
at peace and in place.
But having thought of it
I am beyond the time
I might have sold my hands
or sold my voice and mind
to the arguments of power
that go blind against
what they would destroy.
I leave that behind.

Source: Poetry, June 1967, p. 130. Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is a poet, novelist, farmer and environmental activist. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. You can read more about Wendell Berry and sample more of his works at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] The term “Jews” here is better understood as the “religious leaders of Judea.” Other than Pontius Pilate and possibly the “royal official” in Chapter 3, everyone in John’s narrative is a Jew.

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