Peace Be with You.

John 20

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

It’s quite an introduction to the story. We come off of Easter morning with Mary Magdalene’s proclamation, “I have seen the Lord!” and we think everything is celebration and joy.

But this introduction leads me to think it wasn’t so simple. It suggests the toxic brew of fear and guilt the disciples must have been feeling as they gathered. They had, after all, witnessed the gruesome execution of their leader and friend. They had turned their backs on Jesus and abandoned him, not to mention that as Jesus’ followers they could be next to be targeted.

The only thing I can compare it to is hospital waiting areas, where tragedy has struck. People are still in shock over news of their loved one—it is too terrible to be true. The “If only…” questions that swirl around, as if the mind is desperately seeking some way out. Cold fingers of dread grip your heart and there’s a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach—it’s just too horrible to take in.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ first words, then, are “Peace be with you.” What is more needed in these kinds of situations than peace? Calm for the storms inside and out, a restoration of sanity, a still place in the midst of a world upended?

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.”

I want to do a little experiment with you.  Breathe in strength, acceptance, peace. Breathe out stress, pain and whatever does not serve you. In that short exercise, what did you notice?  Did your shoulders come down? Did you feel more relaxed?

I think it is no coincidence that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, all connect with the breath. Specific practices of breathing have been shown scientifically to lower stress and blood pressure. Breathing well brings peace. In this story, Jesus’ breath is about calm in the midst of the storm.

One of my earliest memories was of a dinner party- I must have been about 3. One of my dad’s colleagues had invited all the junior faculty over to their big apartment complex. I was running around with a big pack of kids, in the central grassy area. I got bored and decided to go back to the apartment by myself. I retraced my steps and put my hand to the sliding glass door at the back of their apartment—except that suddenly a little white dog was at the door, barking at me.

Almost as immediately, a big bald man with a scowling face appeared at the door and demanded, “What are you doing here??” I was so scared, I just turned and ran.

I don’t know how I got back to the right apartment, but the next thing I remember is being in my mother’s arms, crying hysterically. I couldn’t even tell her what had happened, I was sobbing so hard.

Gradually, though, I calmed down. I listened to her breathing, slow and steady, feeling the rise and fall of her chest. My ragged breathing smoothed out, matching hers.

Today’s gospel story is John’s version of the giving of the Holy Spirit –Luke’s version in Acts tells us the Spirit was given to all disciples of Jesus. That includes us, today. When we are like small, scared children, all we have to do is breathe…and the Spirit is there, holding us, giving us a place of calm.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that that the root word for respiration and Spirit is the same.

The Bible begins in the book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God’s Spirit moved over the waters…” God breathes the spirit of life into Adam, and everything is new. Likewise, the breath of the Spirit in our story today is a new beginning for the disciples. Jesus forgives them for turning their backs on him. Jesus gives them peace, despite the danger of their circumstances. Jesus inaugurates a new ministry in which the disciples share Jesus’ life and forgiveness with others.

We have a new beginning in the Spirit. Like the disciples we don’t know exactly what it will look like

but it is about sharing Jesus’ life and forgiveness. One thing we do know, is that begins right here, in a place of God’s peace and acceptance. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. His peace is as close as our breath.

Leave a Reply