Sunday, April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter
"Peace be with you"
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I was never good at math. But I did learn to do the basics – add, subtract, multiply and divide. However, I did poorly in my algebra class and so I found myself attending a summer session after my freshmen year in high school.
I lived with the family of one of my classmates in Kahalu‘u on the north shore of the island of O‘ahu for three months. As I look back over that summer, I remember the ho‘okipa or hospitality of the family that welcomed me into their home.
I also remember my introduction to the worship of the Episcopal Church. Every Sunday we would walk up the street to attend the service. To say it was different from what I was accustomed growing up with my mother being Pentecostal and attending a boarding school founded upon the Congregational tradition would be a bit of an understatement.
I found myself kneeling in prayer and being surprised at my first taste of Communion wine. But I also learned the practice of passing the peace.
The worship leader would say, “The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” to which we would all reply, “And also with you.”
Then we were invited to bless one another with peace of Christ (Reflections on the Lectionary, April Yamasaki, Christian Century, April 20, 2019, page 21). Everyone would stand and turn to each other to offer their word of peace. Some would cross the aisle, others would move around to greet and welcome others. If they knew each other, they would hug and kiss each other on the cheek.
Being relatively shy at the time I did not venture too far from the pew where I was sitting. I would turn to the left or to right; behind me or in front me. Still it was evident to me that the passing of the peace was offered in a “spirit of welcome and good will” (Op. cit.).
This Easter season provides us with opportunities to reflect on the biblical witness concerning the early disciples’ experiences of the risen Christ. “When Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection, he greets them with, ‘Peace be with you’” (Op. cit.).
For some this was meant to be a customary greeting of respect. In The First Book of Samuel, David instructs his men to great Nabal with “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have” (1 Samuel 25:6). When Jesus sends the disciples out ahead of him before to find a colt as he prepares to enter Jerusalem for the last time, he tells them to say: “Peace to this house!” (Luke 10:5).
In the aftermath of his life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to realize that this customary greeting of peace takes on a new significance in his words of farewell to the disciples. Jesus tells them he will leave and then return. And then he makes the following promises, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Later he adds, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33).
When Jesus appears to his disciples after he is laid in the tomb, Thomas, who was missing earlier, is now present to receive Jesus’ greeting, “Peace be with you.” It is easy for us today to miss the significance and power of that moment. Our religious rituals have become both habitual and routine.
Much may be said about the testimonies of the two of the disciples and Mary Magdalene (John 10:1-8) and the ten disciples and Thomas (John 20:24-29). In many ways each story represents the different levels of faith we have come to recognize. “ . . . there is faith based on signs and there is faith that needs none; there is faith weak and faith strong; faith shallow and faith deep; faith growing and faith faltering” (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 236).
But what is most striking to me is something that I have shared with you in the past. It was not only what Jesus said to the disciples that is striking, it is what he did in conferring upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit. “The promise of the Spirit, so repeatedly given by Jesus in the farewell discourses (John 14-16) is here fulfilled: He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22) (Op. cit.).
It has been said that as brief as the passage may be it points the way to the season of Pentecost that is to come – a time when the Holy Spirit is given to empower and enable the disciples and countless others to bear witness to the risen Christ. That Spirit is given when Jesus breathes on them.
It is an act that was and is deeply and profoundly familiar to our Hawaiian ancestors and descendants. The practice of hā – of pressing forehead against forehead and being nose to nose – is one that has been revived in recent years.
It is an intimate and sacred act that calls for each person to take a deep breath and to exchange one’s hā or the breath of life and its spiritual power with between two people. In an article that appeared in the Journal of Indigenous Social Development (Volume 3, Issue 1), August 2014), Thao N. Le and Pono Shim write: “Hā (breath) exercises are commonly emphasized as a way to tap one’s energy source and to connect deeply, to one’s essential nature and to others.” That connection is made when it is offered not in a handshake or a bow, but forehead to forehead, nose to nose.
I have often wondered how the early Hawaiians reacted when they first heard about the story of Jesus conferring the Holy Spirit upon the early disciples by breathing on them? I imagine some were quick to say, “We understand that there is spiritual power between two people when that breath is shared.”
Late Thursday afternoon, a good and dear friend stopped by for a visit while I was in my office. Some of you know Kimokea. He is a cultural practitioner whose interests range from sailing on voyaging canoes to restoring lolo i‘a or the fish ponds of Maui to serving a cultural monitor at development sites that may be archaeological sensitive.
Our busy lives keeps us from seeing each other more often. But when we do – the greeting always begins with the exchange of hā. It is that hā or breath that sustains Kimokea in his life and in his work.
It is that hā or breath from Jesus that sustained Thomas, Mary Magdalene and the other disciples in their lives. It is that hā or breath that sustains us as well. It is that hā or breath that gives power to the spoken word, “Peace be with you.” Amen.