Prayers, Readings and Reflections for Second Sunday of Easter, 19 April 2020 - Peace
Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said, ’Peace be with you.’ (John 20.19)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14.27)
It was the night before Jesus died that he gave the gift of peace to his disciples in these words from John 14. They are part of what is known as the Farewell Discourses of Jesus which can be found in chapters 14-16 of John’s Gospel. In them Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come so that they will be able to interpret events through the eyes of faith and not despair. His words are full of comfort and promises: of his continuing presence with them; of the necessity of his return to the Father; of the future of the community to be shaped wholly by love; and of the gift of the Holy Spirit as an abiding, comforting, empowering companion.
As Jesus spoke those words: ‘Peace be with you’ to the disciples, who were huddled in fear behind locked doors on the evening of that first day of resurrection, I wonder if all those promises came flooding back to them in a moment of insight and understanding. They had had the evidence of the empty tomb; they had had Mary’s witness ’I have seen the Lord’. Hope had been ignited, yet it hadn’t cast out fear until this moment, when the realisation begins to dawn that resurrection means that Jesus enters their place of darkness with his gift of peace and abiding presence with them.
Thomas, we’re told, wasn’t present with the other disciples on that first evening. He wants to see the risen Jesus for himself. And Jesus understands Thomas’ need and graciously meets it so that Thomas has the same experience of knowing the presence of the risen Jesus and his gift of peace.
The fear which had gripped the disciples up to that point of encounter with Jesus was multi-layered. At one level they feared for their physical safety – that they risked suffering the same fate as Jesus. But also, I imagine, their fear went deeper – had they been misguided fools to have staked so much on following Jesus, what would the future hold for them now if they managed to escape the attention of the authorities?
The lock-down of Covid-19 means that we too are huddled behind closed doors, perhaps fearful for our own health or that of those closest to us. We may fear the loneliness which necessary isolation brings. Many are fearful, not only for their personal economic future, but for the future of the country’s and the world’s economy. We are brought face to face with our own mortality and the fragility of our existence. Thomas speaks for all of us: in the midst of the darkness of this pandemic we want to know where God is in all of this, we want to experience the peace which the presence of Jesus brings.
As Easter people we are called to affirm the truth of the resurrection: that Christ in rising has overcome darkness and death. We do that by committing ourselves to living with confidence in the future and looking for and working with the good things emerging as communities open their eyes with compassion to the needs of the vulnerable. That’s not to deny the reality of sorrow, pain and loss but to know that God can be found right in it and has the power to transform any and every situation. The truth is that we don’t experience the transformation of resurrection by avoiding that reality but, as Christ did, by submitting to it. The gift of Christ’s peace doesn’t remove us from disaster and death but gives us peace within it. May you discover that peace in whatever situation you find yourselves in this Eastertide and continue to proclaim:
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Here are two prayers of Celtic origin which I’ve found helpful in times of fear and anxiety:
Calm me Lord, as you stilled the storm.
Still me Lord and free me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord in your peace. David Adam
The Caim, or circling prayer for yourself or for another ("N") for whom you pray.
Circle me/ N, Lord
Keep love within, keep strife without.
Keep hope within, keep despair without,
Keep peace within, keep harm without.
Keep light within, keep darkness out.
May you stand in the circle with me/ N,
today and always. Amen