Post Resurrection Peace

Post Resurrection Peace
Rev. Michael Livingston
John 20:19-23

Do you know what is like to feel the loss of your faith in the way the world works? That exaggerated sense of disorientation as if your inner ear has been invaded by insect or infection and to open your eyes or to rise from bed is a step from a cloud into a sky dive without a parachute? For Baby Boomers, I know you’re out there, that disorientation was caused the Vietnam War, by any one of the illusion shattering assassinations of the sixties, by the murders of civil rights activists, Black Panther leaders, and four little black girls in Sunday dresses at Sunday School. Our remembrances and call to action on this 50th anniversary of King’s assassination brings this all up for me, for us again. And the parallels to this day and time are obvious, what young person doesn’t know this disorientation that I’m talking about after the horrifying string of deaths that are our current reality?

I am powerless to convey the suffering I knew at the assassination of JFK; the deep pain and then the quiet rage which consumed me at the news of the assassination of MLK—I was in the cafeteria in my dorm when the announcement came—there were some cheers…in Los Angeles. The second decade of my life is part scar tissue, innocence and assassination fused—lumpy in my adolescent identity. So I entered seminary believing myself well immunized against the tragedies lurking in the flesh of life. Not even a car accident that hospitalized me from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day my first year did much damage to the hard shell I’d grown in the defining decade of my life. Oh, I woke up to see Nancy sitting by my bed. Angels in America. When I graduated and looked forward to my wedding in the middle of the summer I was rushing toward happiness and a sterling career saving the world from injustice and sin—in that order.

Then my brother died and the world stopped. And I knew the feeling Mary Karr described writing about the death of her grandmother, “I…felt the loss of my…trust in the world’s order.” Right there, do you know that feeling? Whether my some personal tragedy or calamitous social event? You do, you will. It is a crushing pain, the world cannot be made to be a sensible place. Life becomes dissonant, chaotic, disturbing. Many of our days these days are like this.

So you just hold on, your boundaries conform to “whatever shape survival requires.” (Karr again). Earth becomes a literal place negotiated by ordinance, a compulsion toward repetition, a constipated precision, a fanaticism for the familiar. Wonder is a balloon sacrificed to the wind; imagination a luxury out of mind. Follow the script, the groove in the road or be silent and stay home.

What if you believe yourself responsible for the death that sets your world spinning? What if you are the one who could not stay awake one hour? Who clung to shadowed corners when witnesses were needed? Who denied any knowledge of the teacher while the cock crowed on? What if you were one whose voice joined the chorus for Barabbas in frustration at the mission’s failure? “Jesus Christ Superstar…” One whose timidity or apathy might have made it easier for the nails to be driven in? What if you were one who knew what Judas was up to? And did nothing? One who thought “It is finished” now that he was gone? One who thought that all there was left to do was go back to fishing when the mourning was over?

Right up until Mary starts to tell her story: “The stone was rolled away. You should have heard him call me—Mary! I have seen the Lord,” right up ‘til then, these followers of Jesus are in crucifixion-induced-post-traumatic stress-syndrome. They no longer trust the worlds order. They are numb with pain, walled off from grace and the hope that frees us to be bold, to reach and risk the foolishness of love rather than the fear of death—trusting that God will be with us.
Then or now, them or us; how do we get the weight of this guilt off our backs and out of our minds? This feeling of complicity with evil, this sense of having not done enough, cared enough, said enough or said too much of nothing; this gnawing horror of miscalculation, this horrible indecision? Whatever our circumstances that wondrous affirmation of the early church remains true: Christ is risen!

Risen indeed…and in the midst of them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus says it twice and means it. He is giving them something, creating a reality beyond even the miracle of his presence. He may want them to remember, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled…do not let them be afraid.” We pass this peace nearly every week. Oh don’t waste it, find someone you need to say this to or hear it from…
Peace…he said showing his hands and side. As if there were no dissonance between the two at all. Peace with hands and feet defaced by violence and death. “Peace…” sending them into the world with Holy Spirit. As God’s breath gave birth to humanity so Christ blew life into the new community made of his broken body and blood, his victory over death.

Victory over death? Not when we are sitting by the gravesite watching the pastor throw dirt and flowers on a casket lowered into the earth bearing one we have loved. Yet we can survive the sting. In time we come to know each loved one lives in and through us. Death is defeated by the love we bear of them. We might still feel the pain, years later but it strengthens us. To know me is to know the Earl who bears my father’s name—whose death broke our hearts—whose joyful life nourishes us decades later. It is to know my dear maternal “Mother Moore” whose ability to pray without distraction far exceeded our childhood attempts to test the limits of her endurance. She’d be praying on her knees-at her bed-under that picture of the long brown hair-blue-eyed Jesus, and we’d be giggling and staring at her-stepping over her feet extended behind her—and she never said a word, just smiled when she finished—“goodnight Hon.”
Love—given and received is eternal. That is divine peace, passing our understanding, soothing our troubled hearts and restless minds. Gift of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When he bids the disciples and us, “Go” and breathes on us, we can go: we can de-Trump the White House and re-populate the Congress and get the guns and shelter the homeless and feed the hungry and even be decent toward one another…if we try. “In the world you face persecution. But take courage: I have conquered the world.”

Paraphrasing Anne LaMott in Bird by Bird, “…there is no point in writing hopeless sermons. We all know we’re going to die, what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” Like this little boy:

He was eight and had a younger sister dying of leukemia. She would die without a blood transfusion and his parents told him his blood might be a match. It was. They asked him if he would give his sister one pint of blood. He said he would have to think about it overnight. The next day he went to his parents and told them he would give his sister his blood. They laid him and his sister side by side with IV’s in their arms. He was silent while the blood dripped from him to his sister. The doctor went over to him to see how he was doing. He opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

The dissonance, the persecution, the human face of our sin, these are everywhere around us and in us—there is no escaping that. And there is this wondrous truth: That little boy went into the Gethsemane of his bedroom and wrestled with angels while his sister and the world slept—until God called his name, until the peace of God descended upon him. Next morning, his heart filled with love for his sister and Gods’ peace, he got up on that gurney and waited, he thought, to die. All the dissonance in life is resolved in his gift. The world has been conquered.

You know I’m all about the social gospel, about the struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, the senseless violence we let happen, the crass greed and materialism that is devouring our planet, our people. We dismantle these systems best as the healing and whole people God created us to be.

Can’t you feel the breath of the living God on your face as Jesus says, “Peace be with you?” Don’t be fooled by death. The resurrection means peace. Let us go into the world bearing the peace of Christ who is standing in our midst. Let us go into the world in the comfort of the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us go into the world forgiving the sins of others. In the healing and reconciliation that will follow—God’s beloved community will come to life. O yes it will. AMEN.