Peace be with you. That’s one of those things churchgoers hear all the time. So how is it working for you? Is there peace in your world?
Well, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria and North Korea — the headlines would scream out a big “no” to that one. But even closer to home, school shootings and rapes, murders and robberies seem to dominate what’s considered “news.”
Even in our own homes, husbands and wives seem to find things to argue about and children disobey their parents and fight with their brothers and sisters. Peace is elusive.
Even peace of mind is hard to find, what, with all the anxiety and worry, stress and fear that so often roll around in our hearts. So how can I say, “Peace be with you”?
In John’s account of Jesus’ visits to the disciples in the upper room on the first Easter evening and then the next week, our Savior gives us that answer. Three times in John 20:19-31, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.”
And it makes sense why he would need to repeat it. These were the guys who had abandoned Jesus. They slept when he needed them. They ran away when he was arrested and let him die alone. Peter even called down curses guaranteeing he had nothing to do with this guy.
They had let all their hopes and dreams go to the grave with him. They hadn’t listened to him. So they didn’t have peace, what — between the guilt and shame for how they had treated Jesus to the fear and worry of what the Jews might have in store for them.
They were looking for peace in that upper room, hiding behind locked doors — but were not finding it.
Can you relate? Has your shame ever caused you to hide away from someone you just couldn’t bear to see anymore? Has your worry ever kept you up at night? Do you know what it feels like for guilt to gnaw at you from the inside out? If you’re honest, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
How can I say that? Because you are human. So sin is a very real part of your lives. And sin has its wage. That is not a very peaceful thought. If others knew what I have thought or said about them — I’d have no peace.
If others find out about your mistakes, you’re in trouble, right? If I get the punishment for imperfection — I’ve got nothing but hell waiting.
So Jesus appears in that upper room bringing peace — no matter what situation we’re in, no matter what our failures or shortcomings, no matter how many betrayals and denials we’ve piled up. He brings that peace in everything we are and in everything he does.
So really, probably even bigger than his words “Peace be with you” was the fact that he was with them. There in the room. Right where they found themselves terrified, he comes to fix that. He shows them again that he is alive. Realize what that means. That means that their sins are paid for. That means that their guilt is no longer on their record. That means that they get heaven instead of hell. It means for us joy, relief, victory…peace. It means all the things we are shouting out when we declare: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Do you have that peace? Recently, I had a conversation with a lady who told me how she was looking for peace. Life seemed to be going pretty well: she had a husband who loved her, great children, a great home, a new job, she said. Things were clicking — but something was missing. There was no peace.
She wanted to know how to find it. And I think we can all relate to that. Peace is not just having the things we want or having things go our way. Have you ever had that empty feeling when it doesn’t make sense, when the situation says that you should be feeling pretty good?
That’s proof that peace is not a matter of circumstances or setting, it’s something much deeper. So look at what Jesus does next. After giving them the peace of his presence and the peace of his promise — his word, he gives them the peace of purpose and the peace of power — the peace of forgiveness. Look at verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
A while back, a Duke University study on people self-described as “unhappy” showed that the top indicator, the most common denominator for unhappiness is “holding a grudge.”
Right behind it was “living in the past.” Jesus addresses both of these here, doesn’t he? He doesn’t hold their pasts over them, but gives them power for their future. And not only has he forgiven them, but he gives them the job of forgiving.
They are so forgiven, they are so God’s children, that Jesus said they will speak for God and can declare his forgiveness to others.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll have to go online and read the full sermon to see about the peace of proof he gives to Thomas and the peace of the promises of his word and sacraments.
But to close off this column, just remember that peace is with you, no matter what is happening in your life. Because peace is not being without storms in life. Peace is having calm in the storm.
Peace is not not having any problems — it’s having confidence in our eternal solution. Peace is not being on some beach on vacation with the mind racing about how we’re going to pay for this.
Peace is not the setting of our lives, but how we’re sitting with God and because of Easter, we are sitting pretty…all because Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.