The Gifts of Easter – The Peace of the Spirit
Second Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020
John 20:19-31
Over the coming weeks of Easter season, we will explore the Gifts of Easter.
As outlined in biblical narratives, we will explore the gifts that Jesus gave to his first disciples.
These are the most wondrous, life-changing gifts that could ever be offered,
the same gifts that the risen Lord gives us today.
First, we will explore the gift of the peace of the Holy Spirit, then, and over the coming weeks,
we will explore the Voice of the Shepherd, the Way to the Father,
the Comfort of the Spirit, and the Knowledge of Eternal Life.
I look forward to travelling this journey with you,
and I invite you to share these worship videos with your friends, family, and neighbors.
Though this form of worship has been quite unfamiliar to us,
we have been so pleased that, over the past weeks, our Decatur Presbyterian worship
has been “attended” by far people than actually would have been in the pews
on any given Sunday morning – another silver lining to these extraordinary days.
Our post-resurrection text for this Second Sunday of Easter
begins with the disciples gathered behind locked doors on Easter evening, the first Easter evening.
The disciples are not celebrating at this point. They are hiding out for fear of the Jews.
They had heard strange and wondrous news from the women, who visited the tomb,
but they were still afraid and full of doubt.
Into the room of these fearful disciples, whose lives were in chaos and confusion,
Jesus came and stood among them, granting them peace, and then granting them a purpose.
Hear the Word of God from the 20 th chapter of the Gospel of John.
John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples
had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with
you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw
the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When
he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of
any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A gentle breeze blows through a nearby tree, causing the leaves to flutter…
A single dove flies into your sight and lands gently on a branch not far away from you…
A bright yellow flame flickers in an unusual manner around a log on the fire…
A gentle ripple on the water gives you pause, making you take notice…
With the eyes of faith, we are aware that the Spirit of God is present and active in this world
and manifests itself to us in a myriad of ways.
The Spirit of God is present in and through creation and through human beings –
in sacred, beautiful places –like Montreat, North Carolina or the island of Iona, Scotland
or even the sanctuary of Decatur Presbyterian Church.
We call these locations “thin places” because – sometimes –
the veil between heaven and earth seems so thin.
Though many people have experienced the presence of God somewhere like Montreat or Iona,
nevertheless “thin places” can be most anywhere.
You can experience a “thin place” with your toes in the sand,
gazing across a great expanse of water.
You can experience a “thin place” at the sight of a majestic tree or a beautiful waterfall.
You can experience a “thin place” while reading a poem or a verse of Scripture.
You can become aware of a “thin place” right where you are, in your home, in the midst of quarantine,
perhaps when you receive a phone call from a friend or family member that arrived at just the right hour,
or when you received some moment of clarity in the midst of prayer.
The disciples of Jesus had experienced a “thin place” in the Upper Room that fateful Passover night.
Jesus took the bread after supper, and having blest it, he broke it,
and said the most unexpected thing – this is my body, broken for you; this my blood, shed for you.
They knew it was a holy moment – it was a moment set apart in time –
a moment they would remember for the rest of their lives.
Just three nights later, in what could have been the same exact room,
the disciples experienced another “thin place” moment.
They were hiding out for fear of the Romans and fear of the Jews.
They were afraid to go outside. They were afraid to show their faces in public.
They were huddled together, probably sending couriers to gather food and water and wine.
Then, he came…he came and stood among them.
The doors were locked. They had seen him crucified, dead.
But there he was, with them, before them.
And the first thing he said, his first word to them after the resurrection,
the word they would remember always: “Shalom.” Peace. Peace be with you.
We share this same peace with one another on most Sundays.
We turn to one another in worship and say those same words,
the first words that Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection: Peace be with you.
The gift of peace is life-changing.
The Apostle Paul would write about this peace some years later.
While Paul was imprisoned and anxious over the condition of his fledgling congregations,
uncertain about his future and the future of his colleagues,
he wrote to his friends in Philippi and, in a few of my favorite verses of Scripture,
he spoke to them of peace, the gift of God’s peace that passes all understanding.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4)
The gift of the peace of God’s Spirit was given to those first disciples,
a gift that strengthened them and united them and comforted them.
And notice that the gift of peace was not given simply for unity or strength.
The gift was not given solely for their spiritual edification after experiencing the trauma of the cross.
When the first disciples received the peace of the risen Christ,
they were immediately told not to keep it to themselves.
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive Holy Spirit.
Those first disciples were to go and share the peace of Christ;
they were to continue the life-changing ministry of Jesus of Nazareth,
and by God’s grace they did.
They went through all the world, sharing the grace that had been made known in Jesus Christ,
and embodying the peace that passes all understanding,
even in the midst of great trials and deadly persecutions at the hands of the powers that be.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke plainly about the world to which those disciples would be sent.
Even though the world would reject Jesus and would often reject the disciples,
it is yet a world loved by its creator, God.
Jesus sent his disciples into the world, as dark and as dangerous as it can be.
Shrouded in sin, full of chaos and evil, confused by strife and misunderstanding,
and yet a world clothed in beauty and wondrous potential,
a world alive with the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit.
It is to this world that you and I are sent.
Receive Holy Spirit, Jesus said.
Be at peace with God and in tune with God’s Spirit,
because your lives will not always be easy nor will they be without strife.
But you will never be alone. I will be with you, always,
and you will do far greater works than I have done.
This is what Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper,
that they would do far greater works than he had done.
Those fearful disciples, who had so often misunderstood and fallen short,
who had denied him and run away when the chips were down,
would do far greater works?
Jesus reached thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands in preaching the good news and healing.
But those eleven fearful, doubtful disciples –
they were sent forth from that locked room into a difficult and unwelcoming world.
They healed and taught and baptized and made disciples of all nations,
and ultimately, they did far greater works than Jesus had done.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they spread the good news of the gospel,
the message of forgiveness, to every corner of the earth.
And everywhere the Church had once been planted, it still exists today.
In some churches in China new believers are welcomed with these words:
“Jesus now has a new pair of eyes with which to see,
Jesus now has a new pair of ears with which to hear;
Jesus now has a new pair of hands with which to help;
Jesus now has a new heart with which to love others.”
Friends, Jesus has given to us the gift of peace, the peace of God’s Spirit.
Along with that gift he gives us a purpose – to share that peace with others.
While the Spirit of God is made manifest in all of creation, in a myriad of ways,
the Spirit of God is never more wondrously at work than through one individual human being,
sharing the peace and love of Jesus Christ in an everyday encounter with another.
Friends, peace be with you, now and always.
And as the Father sent Jesus to those first century Galileans,
and as Jesus sent those first century Galileans throughout all the world,
so Jesus sends you and me, to continue his ministry in a world desperately in need of God’s peace,
the peace that passes all understanding.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia