Heads Up! Jesus Is All Around: Reflections on John 20: 19-31
In the Old Testament, peace is invoked, not only in greetings, but also in farewells. "Go in peace" (1 Sam. 1:17, 20:42; 2 Sam. 15:9; 2 Kgs. 5:19).
The psalms and prophets speak of the peace of God. Peace is God's gift of inner serenity to those who place their trust in God (Ps. 4:8; Is. 26:3, 12). Peace is both the goal (Ps. 34:14) and the reward of righteousness (Is. 32:17). Its presence will be a sign of God's reign (Ps. 85:10). Peace results when one loves and follows God's law (Ps. 119:165).
This isn't the first time Jesus has uttered this greeting. "Peace be with you," is the fulfillment of a promise Jesus made to his disciples in chapter 14 of John's Gospel (Jn. 14:18-28). The disciples were afraid that they would be "orphaned" (14:18). Jesus assured them that the Father, in his name, would send the Holy Spirit to both "teach and remind" them of Jesus' message (14:26). He then promises them peace.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid . . . I am going away and I am coming to you" (14:27, 28).
Well, now he's back, as promised. Now here he stands in the midst of his disciples whose hearts are both troubled and afraid, reminding them of the gift of peace which he has already given them.
References to peace in the New Testament aren't limited to John's Gospel. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, encourages peace as the posture of the disciple. Pointing out that we can't add an hour to our lifespan by anxiety, and that God will provide for us, he advises his followers to "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt. 6:33).
The Apostle Paul habitually begins his letters with the affirmation that the Risen Lord brings peace. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Near the end of his letter to the Philippians, writing from a prison cell where his future seemed to hold only suffering and death, Paul offers this instruction to the Church at Philippi: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4: 6, 7).
If there are places in your life and that of your community where troubled thoughts and anxious visions of the future have banished peace, you will want to make sure you are looking up this Easter Season. Make sure you're in a posture where you can see and hear the Risen Lord standing before you expressing the way things are now, not wishful thinking: "Peace be with you." The Risen Lord brings peace.
That's not something we want to miss out on simply because we are looking down.
If we are not looking up, we might miss the Good News.
Both in this initial scene with the disciples and the one a week later with Thomas, after Jesus greets them with "Peace be with you," he shows them his hands and his side. In the second scene, he invites Thomas to touch his hands and his side. Throughout the centuries the "Five Holy Wounds" of Christ have inspired Christians prayerfully to contemplate the sufferings of Christ. "I should be dead, but yet here I stand." Is that what the wounds say to me? In our world that teems with injustice and violence, despair, cynicism, and fear could easily overpower hope and faith if it weren't for the fact that, in Jesus' words, "The ruler of this world has no power over me" (Jn. 14:30). The wounds say that love is stronger than death, that the worst brutality of which human beings are capable is no match for the resurrecting power of God.
If there are places in your life and in that of your community where injustice and violence seem to rule, you will want to make sure you are looking up this Easter Season so you can see and touch the wounds of the Risen Christ, visible signs of the ultimate victory of life over death that strengthen us for the smaller battles that lie ahead.
"I'll believe it when I see it," we often say. "I'll believe it when I see and touch it," says Thomas.
You can't blame him. He wasn't there when Jesus made his first visit. He wants firsthand proof that what the others have reported to him is actually true.
So do I, but I'm not going to get it. For years, I've yearned for more direct evidence. If I could feel Jesus' arm around my shoulder, maybe. If I could hear him say some audible words in my ear. If, when I closed my eyes, I could see his face or, better yet, if, when I opened them, he would be right there in front of me . . . But all I have to go on is faith. Fortunately, it is enough to nourish and sustain me day by day.
I take some comfort in Jesus' chastisement of Thomas. "You have believed because you have seen me" (20:29). It leads directly to his blessing on you and me: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.