The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said to them “Peace be with you”
Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. Alleluia.
That’s the version we expect.
That’s surely the only proper response to such a moment of glorious, life-changing surprise.
They were GLAD
Except, that’s not how it is in the gospel account we’ve just heard.
Instead - They were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.
Once again, the words we are given in Scripture are not those we might have expected.
We’ve already had to deal with this as we contemplated the ending of Mark’s gospel…
“The women said nothing, because they were afraid”
Easter tide – the season of new beginnings and what might be presumed to be happy ever afters doesn’t after all seem to be quite as straightforward as our joyous Alleluias would suggest.
It seems that we’re sometimes rather too prone to tidy things up in our haste to reach the happy ending – hence the clear-up operation that concludes some versions of Mark’s gospel...but, if we pause to think for a moment, confusion and anxiety are entirely rational reactions.
The disciples have had to confront their own desertion of their beloved Lord – learning in the hardest way imaginable the limits of their love and the extent of their frailty.
They have been in hiding, - I imagine them terrified at the sound of each foot on the stairs in case they too were about to be arrested and hauled away to execution.
Worse their mourning has been disturbed by rumours of an empty tomb and visions of angels but as far as they are concerned the harsh reality is remains.
Jesus is dead.
Let’s just stay with that for a moment, because today is the day after a remarkable funeral – and one of the greatest sadnesses, always, that surrounds a funeral is the way that a family can pour so much love and energy, dignity and courage into a service, designed to reflect exactly the wishes and the personality of their dear departed – and yet, despite everything, they wake up next morning and know he is STILL dead.
That can feel monstrously unfair – almost a rejection of all the love expended...a moment when grief is piled on grief.
And how is anyone – ANYONE to make peace with that situation?
With a world which has the effrontery to carry on turning, apparently just as usual, despite the experience of loss which has blown one family apart
And they think – We would give anything – anything – to see him one more time...to have one more conversation...a meal together….
And there is no peace – because, of course, this gift is simply not available.
Small wonder, then, that the bereaved disciples are not ready to accept either the evidence of their own eyes (we all know of the experience of glimpsing a loved one in their familiar seat, before the brain catches up and reminds us that they’ve gone) or that unexpected greeting
“Peace be with you”
They are not reconciled to his death – nor are they yet ready to believe in the resurrection.
Of all the things they might be feeling in that moment, peace is way out of sight
But oh, they need to receive his peace – and his pardon.
Their last encounter was as they ran away – only John daring to return, to join the women at Calvary.
They’ve surely blamed themselves time and again in the past three days
But Jesus offers no recrimination – only that extraordinary gift...which he alone can give.
So – they find themselves at the place where hopes and fears, doubts and wonderings collide and are presented with the staggering reality of his physical presence – and into that situation Jesus speaks peace.
Normally in reconciliation both parties are far away from peace. They may not even be sure that they want to attain it – and certainly neither has it ready made as a gift that they can hand over.
But in this situation, on one side is Jesus – all compassion, pure unbounded love – the author of peace...able like no-one else to bring it as a gift into the tumult of their jangled emotions.
Peace be with you
It doesn’t solve everything –
a longing for peace, - an offer OF peace – rarely does.
Peace is a process, not a one-off event that changes us in an instant.
Even when we CAN shake hands and smile, unmasked, at friends and strangers, our moment of “passing the peace” is rarely transformational. Perhaps we ask too little of it – have reduced that amazing possibility of sharing Christ’s peace with one another to a mere social exchange? Perhaps when we can offer it again, we may do so with deeper understanding?
Meanwhile, the disciples are still floundering
For all the physical evidence – scarred hands and feet, that they can touch...the gloriously unappetising broiled fish eaten right there before their very eyes….peace doesn’t arrive just like that
Joy, yes – it seems that their dreams may have come true, against all the odds.
But – maybe there ARE still dreams...Collective madness? Hallucination?
Disbelieving and still wondering seems more than reasonable to me…and it’s certainly a familiar sensation in the life of faith.
Emotionally exhausted, confused, overwhelmed – the disciples don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
They may even be too overwrought to receive that gift which they most need.
This is a place of deep, deep feelings – where there are no adequate words.
Weeping o’er the grave they make their song
I suspect that actually that group of broken, fearful dis-spirited disciples had to wait til Pentecost to fully receive the peace that Jesus was offering…
But meanwhile, - they find themselves commissioned – called to share exactly what they have experienced….repentance and forgiveness….
Whether they feel peace or not, Jesus is in their midst and he has work for them to do.
That work is ours too.
We have arrived at this text – arrived at this Easter season – after a year in which all our imagined certainties have been blown out of the water.
The Queen sitting alone at yesterday’s remarkable service became an icon for all those whose mourning has been compounded by the demands of this covid time, her grief a focus for all the collective grief that has been swirling around us for so many months now.
We may not yet be ready, or able, to receive Christ’s peace or to rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection, much though we long to.
But we can – and we must – to coin a phrase “just get on with it”
Get on with living as a reconciling presence in the lives of our neighbours and communities
Get on with witnessing to God’s love even as we wrestle with our own doubts, our own griefs, our own failures.
We must speak peace to each other, whether we feel it or no – and follow up our words with loving kindness in action…
Jesus stood among them.
Jesus stands among us.
He is always present, will never leave us, his peace an inexhaustible resource for us and for all who have sobbed their way through the long night of grief, and now seek courage to meet the dawn.