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Resurrection Peace - Third Sunday of Easter

Easter 3B: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

The Rev'd Cameron Partridge

April 14, 2024

Good Morning, St. Aidan’s! It’s good to see you on this third Sunday of Easter. As you know, my family and I were away for the first week after our glorious celebration of Easter Vigil and Easter Morning, and I am grateful to Hannah Cornthwaite for stepping in to preside and preach the Second Sunday of Easter. Now as we enter the third week of these Great Fifty Days, the gift of Jesus’ resurrection life continues to shine, to ring out in joy, inviting us further into its mystery. As someone who grew up going to church, even in the Episcopal church with its observance of a church year, I really do not remember appreciating as a young person that Easter was much more than one Sunday but in fact fifty days. I’m sure I was taught about this duration of time growing up but as a teen, Easter felt more like a release from Lent than an actual season (and I’m sure the chocolate bunnies and candy eggs didn’t help). It was only when I was a young adult that Easter started to hit me differently. I had come to love particular resurrection stories – especially that of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas which Hannah preached about last week. But at some point, I realized that Easter as a season showers us over the course of fifty days with various witnesses to Jesus’ risen life and its impact upon the growing community of his followers, upon us. Easter began to hit me as a domain, space-time, a time out of time, a gift of deep, sabbath-saturated peace that has emerged on the other side of a great ordeal. “Peace I give you; my own peace I leave with you,” Jesus says in a passage from John’s gospel (14:27) that we’ll hear in Eastertide next year. But all of the stories of these Great Fifty Days are meant to usher us into that peace, giving it to us as a gift to breathe in and breathe out together, bearing it deeper into our communal life and carrying it out into our wider world. This peace is a distinct gift of resurrection life.

It comes to us this morning in the wonderful, and for me often overlooked, resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke. Our passage comes just after another story of the risen Christ’s encounter with disciples on the road to Emmaus and at supper in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:13-35). We heard that story on this third Sunday of Easter last year and it will come back again in two years (though you can in fact read it anytime!). Our passage continues the spirit of that story. The risen Christ is making himself known in various locations, popping up surprisingly, opening their eyes and their minds to read the pattern of his Paschal life where they could not yet see it. But what strikes me in our story today – and came up in our monthly Wrestling with the Scriptures Bible study earlier this week – is Jesus’ declaration “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). It is the first thing he says in our story. The disciples who had just had their eyes opened after the Emmaus supper, who had rushed into Jerusalem and were in the process of telling others now suddenly were face to face with him again. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said as he made himself known. And he apparently needed to because, as we heard “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (24:37). In one sense it sounds like a version of “don’t freak out – it’s just me…” I’m reminded of how, when I was growing up, whenever I had to wake up my mom in the night for some reason, I learned that I had to say something very telegraphed and deliberate as I entered her room, she would always wake up with such a terrified start – a kind of “Peace be with you, mom! I need some Pepto Bismal…” Jesus is determined that the disciples know that he the Jesus they knew and loved, is in fact embodied, showing them his hands and his feet, and asking for something to eat. The statement “peace be with you” invites them to receive his presence and to be present with him in fully embodied, risen life.

In a similar vein, this same phrase appeared in last week’s gospel passage from John – three times in fact. Upon entry into the upper room on the day of the resurrection, when Jesus first appeared to the twelve in the absence of Thomas, he says this twice (John 20:19, 21). Then a week later he says it as he makes his way into the room, fully, gloriously embodied despite doors locked in fear (John 20:26). In his commentary on the John passage, Raymond Brown notes the overlap of this phrase with our Lukan passage. He also remarks on how this phrase reflected a longstanding greeting pattern shared in various passages of the Hebrew Bible. In one example from Judges, Gideon is frightened by an angelic visitor who assures him, “peace to you; you will not die” (Judges 6:23-24). In response Gideon sets up an altar whose name means “the Lord is peace.”[1] The solemn phrase “shalom aleichem” may well be familiar to us from the sabbath greetings of our Jewish friends. I think as well of the respectful greeting “salaam” that our Muslim friends share. The greeting of peace in the context of our passage invites a community still grappling with the events of Jesus’ death and rising not only to recognize that this person before them was truly Jesus, but also to let the revelation of his rising seep into their bones, grounding and strengthening them as they would begin to make their way forward. In last week’s passage from John’s gospel, this declaration of peace literally conveys the breath of life, as he breathed on them just after inviting them to receive his peace: “receive the Holy Spirit,” he said (John 20:22). The declaration “Peace be with you,” as we are invited to hear it in the deep time of Eastertide is infused with resurrection life.

What might a resurrection infused understanding of Christ’s peace mean? This was a question raised in our Bible Study this week. I hear in these words first of all an invitation not to steep ourselves in fear. “Why are you frightened?” Jesus first asks them after declaring his peace (Luke 24:38). We might hear in this question – and in Jesus’ greeting of peace – not an invalidation of fear, but rather an acknowledgement and redirection. Don’t stay locked in your terror. Step out. Step into the light. Open your eyes. Have courage. His further question, “why do doubts arise in your hearts,” again invites us through natural incredulity into a space of wonder and awe. By all means, recognize that resurrection embodiment, rising from the tomb of imperial oppression and unjust execution is highly unexpected – even if Jesus had conveyed to them on several occasions the pattern of his rising from a crucified life and death. But let your eyes be opened. Let your minds, your hearts be opened to the renewing power of resurrection life. Death does not have the last word, friends, truly! Remember that, live that! Carry that conviction out into a world riven by pain and sorrow, oppression and fear. The gift of resurrection peace is strength for the journey and sabbath for the soul. Receive the Holy Spirit, he says in John’s witness. Let it infuse your life with energy for the work of repair. This is not a peace that represents the absence of conflict, by the way – indeed, Christ’s peace may need to make its way through conflict to collaborate with God’s in-breaking Dream of justice in our world.[2] Peace steeped in resurrection reality bestows grounding to engage conflict in the service of truth, for the right seeing of one another, for living out the gifts of Christ’s resurrection life together, even on this side of the grave. “You are witnesses of these things,” he says to the disciples in Luke (24:48). Breathe in. Breathe out. Be grounded in resurrection reality.

In fact, our worship each week is meant to form us in this reality in a very particular way: through the liturgical exchange of the Peace: “the peace of God” – or as we are saying in Eastertide, “of the risen Christ” – “be always with you.” “And also with you,” we respond. If you happened to grow up in the Episcopal Church or were part of it when the prayer book shifted forty-five years ago, you may remember when the Peace made its way into regular Eucharistic worship through the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.[3] The parish in which I grew up did not practice the Peace, as we still used the previous (1928) prayer book. I remember a very negative reaction to the introduction of the Peace with the “new prayerbook.” But in fact, the practice was and is not a mid-twentieth century relic. It marked a retrieval of an ancient Christian practice of sharing the peace in the context of worship. Its oldest use was in connection with the greeting of the newly baptized, just after their incorporation into Christ’s body and before the community’s joyous, shared receiving of the gift of Christ’s risen body in the bread and wine.[4] We’ll have a chance to instantiate that particular scene of the Peace on Pentecost – the fiftieth of Easter’s Fifty Days – as we celebrate the baptism of Young Qui, who has joined us this year. When we share Christ’s peace, may we remember that we are in fact greeting one another in the name of the risen Christ, as members of a risen body strengthened in joy and hope for the work God calls us to carry out in the world. Thanks be to God for the gift of Christ’s peace, for the strength to carry out his call in community and in the world. May we receive that peace today and reflect in our love and in our lives Christ’s risen, embodied presence. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

[1] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: The Anchor Bible Doubleday, 1970), 1021.

[2] The Dream of God is a phrase from Verna Dozier’s book The Dram of God: A Call to Return (Boston, MA: Cowley, 1991)

[3] Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 345-346; Leonel Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: a Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer (New York: Seabury Press, 1985, 2016), 164-165.

[4] Hatchett, 345

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