Sunday, April 19, 2020

Second Sunday of Easter

"Peace (Maluhia) Be With You"

Rev. Dr. Scott Landis

John 20: 19-31

In my former congregation we engaged each week in what we hoped to be a hospitable yet liturgical practice referred to as “Passing the Peace.” These simple handshake greetings happened fairly early in the service and was a way of uniting ourselves as a congregation acknowledging that despite any differences or factions that may have arisen in our lives prior to worship – at that moment, we desired nothing more or less than to be at peace with one another. At least that was our “liturgical” intent. And so, the greeting was supposed to be 4 simple words, “peace be with you,” to which the one greeted was to respond, “and also with you.”

Like Keawalaʻi, the members of that congregation were very close, and relationships were important. So, when I offered the words “Peace be with you,” (with my outstretched arms) to which the congregation would respond collectively, “And also with you,” those gathered would leave their pews, run all over the sanctuary greeting each other as if they hadn’t seen one another in months – or longer. It has hard to bring them back in order to continue the service. It was a tad chaotic, but it’s a feeling I now long for in our ‘ohana whenever we are permitted to return to worship once again. You see, the simple liturgical gesture had a much deeper meaning to it as folks genuinely looked each other in the eye and expressed their heartfelt love for one another. What was communicated was something that went way beyond words.

Itʻs that sentiment, I believe, Jesus wanted to express when he appeared to the frightened band of disciples that were huddled behind locked doors on that first Easter night. As John tells the story, Mary had already witnessed to them what she saw. Peter and the other disciple had been to the tomb and ran home. The only ones left were this small group of disciples who sheltered-in-place out of fear. They were uncertain of what would happen next. They were very aware of how the authorities had gotten rid of Jesus. And they had to be thinking that they could very well be next.

It’s to that frightened group of loyalists that Jesus offers those memorable words, the same words we offered one anoher in that liturgical gesture, “Peace (maluhia in Hawaiian) be with you.”

I say “memorable” because they had heard those same words before, but in a very different context. [Pause]

The writer of the gospel of John records a rather lengthy section of scripture known as the “Farewell Discourses.” This is the portion of the gospel account where Jesus was preparing those closest to him for a big change – and it was about to happen very soon. Jesus would be leaving them – but not really. While he knew his life was about to come to an end physically – he wanted to communicate that he would still be with them in spirit as he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

And then, just a few scenes later, when he prayed for his disciples, he said that he had come into this world that they may have (maluhia) peace. “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world. Peace be with you.” [Pause]

Uncertain of what they were seeing or how he got through those locked doors, the disciples heard those words of reassurance once again, “Peace be with you.” And, after showing them his hands and his side, they were overcome with joy. John says, “they rejoiced when they saw Jesus after which he offered his words – not of shame, nor condemnation, but of comfort, “Peace be with you.”

And then he commissioned them to serve: “As the father sent me, so I now send you,” as he blessed them with the power they would need, breathing upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit – telling them to go out and offer forgiveness – grace – to a world that was starving to hear that very message. [Pause]

I wonder, for a moment, if you might imagine yourself in that room – behind locked doors with the group of disciples – wondering – what next? You might want to close your eyes and try for a moment to imagine that. What do you feel while you are huddled there? What’s going through your mind as you think about the events of the previous week, the death you just witnessed, and all the hopes you had placed in Jesus suddenly vanished?

If you can’t imagine yourself in that situation, I wonder if thereʻs a situation in your OWN life when you tried to hide from God. Maybe it was an incident or a period of your life when you felt ashamed of who you are or what you did. Fearful of the consequences, it was easier to run and hide – to erect walls to cover up or to lock doors so no one would know. Maybe you convinced yourself that you could hide this part of your life from God.

It’s often during times like this that folks may leave church or isolate themselves from others. We hide – and we do so out of fear. We convince ourselves that if we build walls high enough or lock the doors tightly enough – perhaps other willl not discover what’s really going on in our lives. [Pause]

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, an old prophet of the United Church of Christ and former senior pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City once said something years ago that has amazing relevance for us today. “As I see it,” he said, “the primary religious task these days is help folks to think straight . . . you can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth.”

“Fear seeks safety – not truth.”

Criticism, condemnation, and shame only serve to fortify and deepen one’s fear. But as the bible also teaches us, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” [Pause]

When the disciples hid behind locked doors – they did so out of fear, and, I believe, it broke God’s heart. So, God did what God always does. God offered love. Love – that broke through walls and locked doors – love that pierced through fear and shame – love that intervened in these simple yet profound words of reassurance AND invitation, “Peace be with you.”

They were seeking safety – hiding out of fear, but Truth came to them instead – not only offering them forgiveness, but empowering them with the Holy Spirit to offer that same grace to those they were called to serve and bear witness to the news that Jesus was alive. [Pause]

It was God who came seeking them – and it is God who still comes seeking us today – God always has and God always will. In the midst of our fears, our shame, our hiding – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Whatever walls we have put up – God will break through. Whatever doors we have locked – God will keep knocking until we open our hearts to receive the grace God can’t help God’s Self but to give with these simple words of assurance, “Peace be with you.”

I invite you today to avail yourselves to that grace – that gift – that love – that God offered to us in the person of Jesus whose resurrection we celebrate not just once a year, but each day of our lives. That same God wants you to break through any barriers you may have erected and hear anew those simple yet profound words in this very difficult time.

Peace be with you.


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