Download or listen to the Third Sunday of Easter: “Peace” (Luke 24:36-49)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If only I could have a little peace and quiet. I just need a little inner peace. I want peace in myself, peace in my family, peace in the Church, peace in the world. We work for world peace. We fight for peace. We send troops to “keep the peace.” We make laws to preserve the peace. Everyone’s talking about peace, working for peace, fighting for peace; everyone seems to want peace, but no one seems to know where to find it.
The disciples are looking for some peace after a week of high tension (much like pastors during Holy Week!). They are huddled in a locked room on the night of Jesus’ resurrection. Two disciples had been going to the town of Emmaus, but now they’ve come back to the other disciples, and they tell them that they have seen Jesus, that He opened the Scriptures to them, that they recognized Him when He took some bread and broke it. While they’re still talking, Jesus comes and stands among them. And He brings what they’re looking for: “Peace to you!” He says. But they are not at peace; they are terrified. They think He’s a spirit, a ghost, probably come back from the dead to ask them why they abandoned Him in His hour of need. Probably to reproach them for their unbelief and misunderstanding. It must have been a little unexpected that Jesus’ first words are not words of reproach and rebuke, but the word of peace. He says, “Why are you troubled, and why are doubts rising in your minds? Why are you weighing your reason against what you can see in front of you? Look and touch; see My hands and feet. I am not a ghost; ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” They still aren’t sure, so Jesus asks for some food, they give Him some fish, and He eats it in front of them. He is not a spirit; He has a concrete, physical body. He is not dead; He has been resurrected. And then He goes on to tell them—to remind them—about what He had said before His death, that everything that Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms wrote about Him must be fulfilled. It was divinely necessary for the Christ to suffer and to die and rise on the third day, and for repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins to be preached in all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Jesus is fulfilling the promise His Spirit spoke through the mouth of Zechariah, who prophesied that his son John would prepare the way for the Sun to dawn from heaven and guide their feet into the way of peace. Jesus is fulfilling the song of the angels to the shepherds, which we sing in the liturgy, of “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.” It is the peace of death conquered and life restored.
This is the peace that Jesus brings, and it is the only peace that exists. It is not a feeling, but an objective state of affairs that exists only when we are joined to Christ Himself. And yet, when we look around us, we seem to see everything but peace. We see only war. We see only division. We see only dissension and strife, not only in the world, but also in the Church of Christ. Despite the best efforts of pacifists and peace-keepers, war is nowhere near being eliminated. Governments and tribes and rebels keep pulling triggers and pressing buttons. And even in our local relationships, in our families and communities, we cannot seem to stop causing division. We can’t seem to stop ourselves from saying things we regret, and we can’t seem to stop hurting the ones we love. All we create is more strife. That is because we are bound to oppose to peace. With all our talk and all our good intentions, we don’t really want peace. We hear accusations and attacks in every comment, and we respond in kind. We are not capable of creating peace. We only know trouble and doubt and unbelief.
Unexpectedly, undeservedly, to children of war such as us, Jesus comes speaking peace. The Son of God is peace in the flesh. It is He who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, as Zechariah says, and speaks peace to His people. It is He who fulfills the Psalmist’s hope: “Let me hear what Yahweh God will say; He will speak peace to His people, His saints” (Psalm 85:5). He is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, and if you are not in Christ, you cannot possibly have real peace. The world cannot give this peace, no matter how many anti-war rallies there are. Nothing causes a lack of peace more than death. That’s what we fear the most. Either our death or the death of someone we love. And that is exactly why Jesus comes showing His hands and feet, His flesh and bones, His physical body. Because death is no longer something to fear; not even death can take a peace bound to Jesus’ own resurrected body. Now, not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have the promise from St. John that we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What this creation will be has not yet been revealed. A peace that rules the whole earth has not yet been revealed to our sight. And yet, and yet…when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is, God and Man, with a gloriously physical resurrection body. You will have a body like His; your lowly body, which fears death will be transformed to be like His glorious body, in which there is nothing but the peace of Christ. This is the peace that passes all understanding, and will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. It is the peace that runs throughout our liturgy, from the song of the angels, to the Peace of Christ be with you always. O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace. Depart in peace. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and grant you peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/20/12