If we are faced with difficulty, illness, death, can we receive the peace that only Christ can give us?
Mary Copping, 19 April 2020
Acts 2: 14a, 22–32; John 20: 19–31
I’m speaking from my daughter’s house in Kempshott, where I’ve been staying since lockdown.
Easter was a very different time for me as it was for all of us, each in our own situations and with our own challenges. But I wonder if how we experienced Easter Day in seclusion was more closely related to how the disciples experienced it? For us, on every other Easter Day we rejoiced as we said to each other, ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia.’ We didn’t do that this year. So, too, the disciples did not experience the beginning of their Easter Day in rejoicing. They saw that the tomb was empty; they didn’t understand what had happened; they were confused and fearful of what would become of them now that Jesus had ‘disappeared’.
So in their fear and confusion they went to hide in an upper room. Fearful of what? We’re told that they were there ‘for fear of the Jews’. Again, a very real fear, as they may have been fearful perhaps that if the authorities had killed their innocent master Jesus, they may be next to be killed. Also, there were rumours that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. But perhaps their main fear was that they may have been completely wrong about their master, about this rabbi whom they had followed for three years. Perhaps they felt that their faith in him had been totally misplaced? Should they have listened to the Jewish leaders after all and refused to follow Jesus? Fearful that they had been completely wrong, completely misled.
There are many instances in the Bible where people are fearful and they are reassured. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he said, ‘Do not be afraid’. Jesus had said to his disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ (John 14: 27) And in the upper room, each time Jesus appeared to them he said, ‘Peace be with you’ – not an instruction to ‘calm down, calm down’ but an encouragement to receive the peace that only Christ can offer, the peace that the world cannot give. In our real fears about Covid-19, about what will happen to us, to our families, I wonder if we can receive Christ’s peace – receive the peace that only he can give, and trust that he will be with us and help us. Joshua is told by God, when he is preparing to go into the Promised Land, ‘Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will go with you wherever you go’. So God is with us whatever we go through.
I wonder what we are each fearful of? Our fears may be huge or they may be small; whatever the size, they are real to us. My small fear (though real and large to me) is my fear of mice. My daughter and family have two cats, Benny and Mollie. Mollie catches mice. But because she sees me as the visitor she likes to bring me gifts of mice – some dead, some half-alive, some still running around – to my consternation … which is when I stand on a chair and scream, waiting for rescue. That is my small fear.
I have had many fears in my life. I was very fearful of being ordained, becoming a vicar. What would God expect me to do, would I feel constrained, would my non-Christian friends not talk to me any more, would I become boring? Yet when I was ordained, I realised that it was much better than I had feared, realising that God wouldn’t expect me to do something that was totally against what was right for me. The reality was far less frightening than what I had imagined. Sometimes, things are far less fearful than we’d thought, imagining it without God’s help and guidance and presence.
Now my fears revolve round my family, especially the health of my baby granddaughter who was very unwell. It has been hard to trust that God is with her and taking care of her, but she does get stronger. Sometimes our real fears turn out less fearful than we imagined; sometimes our fears are real and difficult things do happen. But God is always with us.
Most of us have fears of some kind. It could be a fear that paralyses, as it did the disciples. Are we able to talk about it with our friends or with God? I think a lot of us often live in fear, which sometimes prevents us from living to the full extent, in our spiritual lives and our ordinary lives. One of Jesus’ really strong messages is ‘Do not fear’, and he tells us that for a reason. As we have the courage to admit our fears to each other, we can help each other to be less fearful, and more alive.
As we have the courage to admit our fears to each other, we can help each other to be less fearful, and more alive.
Our Christian faith is also about sometimes living with fear, with uncertainty and doubt, and about trusting that God is with us somewhere. Jesus was so lovingly gracious with Thomas who doubted, and he showed him his hands and his side – the proof that Jesus was who he said he was and that what he’d told them about himself had come true. God can take our fears and our uncertainties.
At the end of our gospel reading, John says, ‘But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’. It is so good to have these things written down in God’s word – such a reassurance to see the humanity of the disciples in their doubts and fears, and also to know that Jesus died for us and he is now risen, he is alive, and he came to give us life.
There were many witnesses to the risen Jesus – the disciples and then many others, including 500 gathered together, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians. Jesus faced death, faced the worst that man could do to him. Yet he rose again to bring us to new life in him. As we face what sometimes seems the worst that could happen – if we are faced with difficulty, illness, death – can we receive the peace that only Christ can give us?
As Jesus prepared to leave the disciples in the upper room, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ – the breath of God. As we go forward into the complete unknown in our present situation, we ask God to help us to receive his Holy Spirit, his breath, his presence, his help. Only he can breathe life and peace into us.
John 14: 27 ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’