18 April 2021
Witnesses to the Peace of the Risen Christ
Acts 3:13-15, 17 – 19; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48
During the weeks after Easter, the eyes of Christians turn to a rough-hewn doorway that leads into an empty tomb. Rolled to one side is a huge boulder that was meant to bar the way and make the tomb impregnable. Now that sealed tomb is forever open! Not far away from that empty tomb, among a network of narrow streets in Jerusalem, is a house with the door bolted – a ‘safe house’ where the disciples of Jesus were hiding for fear of being arrested and killed like their master.
It is easy for us today to identify with the feelings of the quarantined disciples of Jesus. ‘Locked in’ captures the condition of many people in our world today. We think of the many victims of poverty, oppression and discrimination, trafficking, those confined by sickness or disability, those walled behind prisons of anger and fear, those caught in the insidious web of depression, unable to find an exit. We count ourselves among the millions reluctantly enduring an enforced quarantine for fear of a relentless Covid 19 pandemic that continues to hold us captive.
Today’s gospel speaks powerfully to all who find themselves locked in, either physically or psychologically. The ‘locked in’ disciples have a visitor. Their Master, now risen, comes to them in their place of hiding, behind closed doors. As recounted by Luke, it is while the two disciples, who had met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, are telling their companions about their encounter that ‘Jesus himself stood among them and said “Peace be with you”’ (Lk 24:37). They can’t believe the evidence of their eyes and think they are seeing a ghost. Even when Jesus shows them the marks of his passion on his flesh, they remain dumbfounded. They even forget their manners! He has to ask them for something to eat. The passage ends with Jesus opening their minds to the meaning of the Scriptures and commissioning them to be be his witnesses to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
We note how the Risen Christ gradually breaks through, not merely the physical barrier of their hiding place, but the much greater psychological barriers of their fears, doubts, guilt and confusion with his assuring presence, his gift of peace, his empowering words and his commissioning of them to be his witnesses. It is the same way that our Risen Lord breaks through the barriers that continue to hold us captive today, whether they be barriers created by others or barriers of our own making. And he, likewise, empowers us with his presence and peace and commissions us to be his witnesses and to share his peace with all peoples.
We may ask: What is this gift of peace that Christ gives us and that empowers us to be his witnesses? It is, first of all, an enduring serenity of spirit, even in the midst of danger and uncertainty, a serenity based on the victory of Christ over all the powers of darkness and evil in the world. It is a serenity that comes from knowing that, as St Paul reminds us, nothing can now separate us from the love of God manifest in Christ. It is the fruit of God’s Spirit at work among us. It signifies, not merely the absence of those things that keep us locked behind closed doors, but the full presence of harmony and integrity in our personal lives, in society, and in the created world. It implies wholeness, being fully healed so that we are ‘at one’ with God, with self, with others, and with all created things. It is the consummation of the marriage of heaven and earth. And it is this gift we are called and commissioned to share with all nations. Indeed, we cannot help but share it when we have experienced it.
I end with a short poem by the Anglican theologian and poet, John V Taylor, in which he describes the great missionary challenge of the Risen Christ to his disciples:
‘This is the visitor who has come to stay,
This city, the kingdom he will not surrender.
Cut through the cords of your own cowardice,
then out once more with him, if eyes can bear
the blinding sunlight of the third morning;
take up the quarrel of his undying truth
in the give and take of the streets, the cut and thrust
of this tempestuous marriage of earth and heaven
which human will can never put asunder.’
Today’s gospel challenges us to cut through ‘the cords’’ of our fears and hesitations and go out with our Risen Lord into ‘the blinding sunlight of the third morning’ to take up again ‘the quarrel of his undying truth’.
Let us pray
Compassionate and loving Lord, you promised to leave us your peace, a peace unlike that which the world offers to us. Father, lead us all to that peace. Help us to trust in your living word and to do what you ask of us. Grant us a confident faith – one that looks to the light rather than at the darkness – one that dares to enter the turmoil of the world – knowing that you are making the world new. Amen.
Fr Michael McCabe SMA, April 2021