Sent With Peace by Rev. Richard Hasselbach
I first met Michael in a dreary room at the drug rehab center where he was in recovery; he was about 25, thin, and had a scraggly beard. His mom was his only family, and recently she had been diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. Michael knew he should be with her when she needed him most, but he couldn’t leave his court-mandated program, so she died alone. As he slumped into the chair across from me, everything about him told me he was locked in guilt and pain.
Jesus’ disciples start the first day of the week locked in grief too. Jesus had been arrested, tortured, and brutally killed on a Roman cross, but when he needed his friends most, they were nowhere to be found. They were fearful of the authorities; afraid that they might be the next targets for execution; so they together hid behind locked doors.
Strange reports started coming to them: Mary Magdalene, who had gone to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning of that first day of the week, told them the grave was open, his body missing. Peter and John investigated and found it just as Mary said. Mary returned later saying she had seen the Lord. They thought she was delusional.
Then, through locked doors, Jesus appeared to them: “Peace be with you,” he said. Jesus was not talking about peace as the absence of conflict; these disciples will know plenty of conflicts in the years to come, He was giving them the peace (shalom) that comes being in relationship with the living God; from knowing that if God is with you, nothing can harm you.
Showing them his wounded hands and side Jesus made it clear: he is no ghost or illusion. The same Jesus who died lives. The risen one is the crucified one. He again says, “Peace be with you.” Whenever you see a phrase repeated in scripture, you know it is important. The Risen Lord wants his disciples, including us, to know that: “whatever your struggles, the Lord is sovereign; all will be well.” When you walk through the valley of death you need to fear no evil; you are not alone!
Breath is essential: when God breathed into Adam, he became a living being. In the valley of the dry bones the Lord tells the prophet, “I will breathe the breath of life into these dry bones, and they will come and live.” Next, the risen Jesus breathes the breath of the Spirit giving his disciples new life.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” he prays. “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Every disciple, from that moment on, receives this mission: “as the father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.” How did the father send Jesus? Jesus went to everyone the world thought of as worthless; everyone the world avoided or despised, and he loved them with abundant, overflowing, over-the-top, love.
What would our world be like if we treated the people like that too? Forget your barriers, stop being afraid; share the peace of Christ by letting your love flow abundantly into the lives of the people around you.
Jesus next commissioned his disciples to be peacemakers: “If you forgive the sins of others they’re forgiven.” Forgive people who need forgiveness; forgive people who don't know they need forgiveness; forgive people that need to hear a word of kindness from you. When you forgive, don't make a big show of it: don’t call someone and say, “I forgive you,” because they’ll hang up on you; but they won’t hang up on you if you say, “It’s been a long time since we got together, how about lunch?” Send a note that says, “Thinking about you. How are you doing? Love you.” That says, “I forgive you,” without saying I forgive you, which is probably the only way we can effectively forgive. Our problem as a Christian people is we don't forgive enough. We hold onto our grudges as if they had value. We are God’s ministers of reconciliation; there is a lot of work to do.
When Thomas returned and heard what the others were saying he reacted to them the way they had responded to Mary, “You guys are nuts!” A week later, Jesus again stood in their midst and bid them Peace, and addressed Thomas. Jesus didn’t scold him, didn’t browbeat him, didn’t shame him. Jesus addresses Thomas’ needs: “If you need to touch me, touch.” “Don't persist in your unbelief. Believe.” In John’s Gospel belief is a living, vibrant relationship with Jesus; it's his friend.
All of us, from time to time, get locked in a dark place where we feel desperately alone; there we lose our connection to God and each other. Every time we are in such a situation, the Lord is already there saying: “Peace be with you.” We are never alone, not even in our darkest hour. He invites us into a relationship with him. He wants to love you like he loved Peter, Andrew, James, John, and that doubting Thomas.
Having been loved and healed Jesus sends us to be lovers and healers ourselves. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
I asked Michael to tell me something about his mom. He said, “Oh, she’s kind. She played the piano at church; she was always looking for ways to help people.” I was thinking, “I wish I knew her.” “She loved me so much,” he told me; she was proud that he was doing so well in recovery. Michael was his mom’s legacy. The best way to honor her, he realized, was to be like her. Her faith gave her strength, even in the face of death, faith could do that for him, too. He began sitting up straight; light came back into his eyes. The Spirit was at work in him giving Michael peace and hope.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Get to work!