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Fear transformed by Jesus’ “Peace”          

Thomas gets a bad rap in today’s gospel reading. Homiletics scholar Gennifer Benjamin Brooks reminds us that ultimately this story is not about Thomas. We’re still in Easter and this is an Easter gospel about Jesus’ resurrection. What is surprising is not that the disciples are shaken up or succumb to doubting after Jesus is crucified and then the mystery of the empty tomb and story from Mary Magdalene about seeing Jesus. That is a lot to process that any of us would struggle with. What is surprising is that in the midst of the disciples’ fear, meeting behind a locked door, Jesus appears in their midst offering “peace.” This is the big, bold billboard message of today’s gospel. When Jesus is present fear gives way to peace.  

Remember that Jesus greets the disciples with peace at the Last Supper, which we recounted on Maundy Thursday just over a week ago. In the lead up to Jesus’ death, his biggest concern is that the disciples be comforted and supported by God’s love. And this isn’t just any ordinary peace. It’s the peace only the risen Jesus is able to confer upon the disciples. That despite death and the confusion that follows, Jesus returns promising the disciples peace through his presence. Jesus doesn’t just tell the disciples they will eventually be at peace with the events they’ve witnessed. Instead Jesus’ presence itself is the peace they desperately need. Because Jesus is present, he continues supporting them with God’s love.

Most important despite the disciples’ own lack of faith, Jesus never abandons the disciples. Peter denies Jesus three times, Thomas doubts Mary’s story meeting the resurrected Jesus. He needs to see to believe. But the story of the disciples’ failings is not unique. It’s part of the human condition. All of us doubt and fall into unbelief at times. And again it’s not about the disciples’ faith or lack thereof. This is an Easter gospel about Jesus’ faithfulness no matter what. That Jesus’ first priority after undergoing crucifixion and resurrection is to bring the disciples peace that the world cannot give.

Our search for peace

Hiding in the house, the disciples remain afraid. We can relate to that fear. Following years of pandemic restrictions many of us have spent more days than we would like hiding in our homes. Taking refuge from an airborne illness. And even after restrictions were lifted it has taken us awhile to feel comfortable again gathering in person. And then the question whether to wear masks or not wear masks. Sometimes we wear masks and sometimes we don’t and it becomes confusing trying to navigate a world we no longer trust in the same way we did previously. It’s not a black and white issue, but about making decisions based upon our own comfort levels, health concerns, etc. It is sad that trust in science over vaccines or wearing masks became a polarizing issue for many people. 

One response to conspiracy theories and fear-mongering is building community. And that is something we are doing together at Church of the Cross. Every time we gather together we proclaim Jesus’ resounding “Peace!” We gather not out of fear of science or fear of trans people or fear of racialized people or refugees. But rather we gather to celebrate these gifts of God. How we have been blessed as the people of God to celebrate the diversity of knowledge, the amazing gifts trans people are in our midst, and the joy of welcoming racialized people into the congregation and greater Victoria. We are richer together. And Jesus’ promise of “peace” reminds us that things are qualitatively better with Jesus’ presence in community.

Sometimes we retreat from community. Like an injured animal sometimes we want to go off and be left alone. That can also be healthy for a time, but we need to reflect if at times we find ourselves avoiding spending time with others. Unless we are homebound and cannot get out, staying away from community can contribute to mental health issues. If like the disciples we hide behind locked doors too much of the time. Living in community breathes life into us. It is by getting to know one another, breaking bread together around the table, over coffee and tea, that we flourish both as individuals and the body of Christ. That too is trusting the resurrected Jesus’ promise of peace. A peace that the world cannot give us.

Community Health Centre - widening community

A story about widening community and finding peace in a changing world. This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to visit the new Community Health Centre at Luther Court. It has been up and running for some time, but this was the first time the public was welcome to come tour the facility. I was greeted by some familiar faces some of whom you see around the church and some others who were newer to me. It was a revelation to me as the Community Health Centre is helping Luther Court to become more outward facing as a resource for people throughout Gordon Head, Shelbourne, and Oak Bay neighbourhoods. That’s a large area where people can access much needed healthcare services, at times when people in hospital sometimes need to stay in beds in hallways, cramped quarters, or pressured for earlier discharges to free up space for others. The Community Health Centre has an opportunity to flag health issues for people before they become a crisis. Through prevention and screening this can alleviate the strain on hospitals including emergency rooms. And there is a sense that by working together we build up one another.

This week I was also reminded that we are working together and sharing space between Church of the Cross, Shelbourne Community Kitchen, and Luther Court/Community Health Centre. There has been an increased interest in cycling among people between our groups. Our single bike rack was getting cramped with all the bikes locked up during the day. And so thanks to the Kitchen for letting us install an extra bike rack donated to them. Thanks to Erik of the church for installing it. And then thanks to Chelsea the community coordinator at the Community Health Clinic when someone left broken glass the day after the new rack was installed. When I arrived at church by bike I didn’t see any trace of the broken glass. And her e-mail served as a helpful reminder that our three groups are already working together, sharing resources, and encouraging one another in our various missions serving neighbours. In response to a discouraging event around the broken glass, our community bonds were strengthened. That is a takeaway that community is a strength and following all the restrictions and lockdowns we need to value it, build it up, and not take it for granted.

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

Increasingly we live in a world in which a lot of people care less about denominations and more about what individual congregations are doing proclaiming the gospel while building community. The old days of boosting denominations, defending turf, no longer make sense. In many people’s minds is there is little different between Lutheran, Anglican, United,  Presbyterian, or even evangelical and non-denominational for that matter. What matters is how are we proclaiming Christ crucified and living out our faith as followers of Jesus. We continue to preserve what is valuable in Lutheran theology. But that is different from putting our energy into saving denominations and church structures. Denominations and church structures will flourish by embracing the Easter message of undergoing death and resurrection. By letting go of old attachments, old rivalries, old metrics, and becoming communities rooted in the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection in ways that speak to people today.

What do you value about Christian community. What proclamation of the gospel speaks to you? How you answer this question matters because we want you to be part of how the Easter gospel is proclaimed here at Church of the Cross. 

Jesus tells the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus is speaking to us. Jesus sends us into the world to share the gospel. And it doesn’t matter how long or how short you have been in this community. Even if you’re just visiting today. You’re already taking this message of divine love and sharing it with others, sent out into the world following worship. That’s why we call the last part of worship the Sending. Jesus is actively sending us out to proclaim a message of peace. For all of us to let go of fears and to embrace love and community. Together with Thomas we too encounter the risen Christ and proclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.