John the Evangelist, the writer of the gospel, begins the story today with these words...It was on that day.
You know, THAT day. Do you have a THAT day? The day that comes to mind when you think of the day that changed the course of your life. Maybe it's your wedding day. Your graduation day. The day you saw the love of your life across the room. The day you realized you were miserable in your job and decided to make a change. You know, THAT day. The day that changed everything. It was THAT day.
And the disciples were hiding. They were scared. They thought that the Jews were after them. They were huddled together like a bunch of wounded animals, talking quietly and just stalling from life. Nothing was eventful about THAT day at all until Jesus came. And then everything changed.
Jesus just showed up. He appeared from out of nowhere. There he was, changing everything. He was alive and their world was turned upside down.
And Jesus said something really important when he appeared in the gospel of John. In fact, he repeats the same phrase three times. And if Jesus repeats something three times, you know it must be important because he didn't repeat himself much at all. Most of the time, he says things only once and you have to hang onto his every word. But this time, Jesus says that same greeting three times. Twice in this one appearance and again when he appears to the group with Thomas present. He says, "Peace be with you."
Jews did use the phrase shalom Aleichem to greet one another. But for Jesus to say this three times, I believe that he was trying to tell us something. And Christians all over the world believe this too for we all say, "The Peace of the Lord be with you," as our final words before we receive communion. We don't think much about it, we call it The Peace. But we do say these words to one another because Jesus, when he appeared in the resurrected form, this is what he said.
But what does it really mean, Peace be with you? I think that in order to understand what Jesus meant, we have to look deep inside ourselves, deep in that place where fear resides. If you found yourself all alone on a huge mountain, no idea where you were, one of the first feelings we would have would be very reasonable, because, as human beings, we are geared for survival. So, our first and most primal emotion would be fear. We are afraid of being lost, of dying, of pain, of suffering, of change. Heck, when it comes down to it, we are afraid most of the time. We just have other words for it now, so it doesn't make us feel so bad. We use these words for different kinds of fear...stress, anxiety, worry. Even anger or depression are related to fear. They are cousins.
So, like the disciples, we feel afraid a lot, whether we admit it or not, or perhaps we have designed our lives to be so comfortable that we are not afraid right now. But we would be if something were to change radically. If, say, we were to find out that we had cancer.
So, we are afraid and, like the disciples, we run away and hide from life and from the brightness of God's presence.
Back in the 1400's there was a woman who hid - but for a different reason. She shut herself in a room just off of a church in Norwich, England in order to face God directly. Someone would put food through a slot in the door. Sometimes, people would come to her for advice. But most of the time it was just her and God. And after a lot of prayer and silence, like years and years of it, she encountered God. And this is what God said to her.
All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. In other words, everything is going to be OK. Everything. Maybe Jesus was trying to tell us something similar. Peace be with you - meaning, you don't ever have to be afraid again. Or maybe another way of saying it would just be I GOT THIS.
You may think that you are falling into an abyss, but I got you. I got this. I have been down into the darkness, down to that place that stares you straight in the face in the darkest part of the night. I have faced your worst fears and I have conquered them. I have conquered death itself. I GOT THIS.
I saw the movie Everest this past week. I can't imagine who would be crazy enough to try to climb where the human body can't breathe, but there are people that thrive on that kind of fear. The guides make the hikers tie their bodies together with rope, so that if one man falls, the man behind will catch him. They are bound together.
Imagine that you are up there and you are terrified. So scared, that you find it hard to breathe and then something happens and you slip. But Jesus is tied to you and when you fall, the rope that attaches you to him gets tight and he is strong and he looks at you and says, "Don't be afraid. I GOT THIS. I have you. I can carry you."
Peace, for the believer in Christ, has nothing to do with what is going on around you. Peace is a state of awareness. It is not a feeling and it is not dependent on the circumstances of your life. Peace is a mystical awareness that transcends time and space. No matter what is going on in your life, you can access this peace that Jesus gave us when he came to us after the resurrection. It is his gift to you.
Peace is the pure awareness that Jesus is your savior. That you have been saved and that Jesus is saving you even now.
Peace is the awareness that JESUS has GOT THIS. He has done it. It is done for you. Nothing can take away God's love for you. Nothing. It is done. You are loved. You are alive. You are held. You are not alone.