The Peace of Christ

Sermon Preached on April 28, 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

The Peace of Christ

I wrote a sermon for today while I was visiting Channing, (got most of it written in the science center at Dickinson, which is named Rector, oddly enough). Then last evening, when I got home from the airport, I saw this article in the Anglican News Service,¹ and I realized that this is what we are supposed to wrestle with today. So, this is only a rough draft of a sermon, you and I may have to finish it together.

As we learned last week after our Easter celebrations, there was a series of coordinated bombings on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka – targeting Christian churches during worship, and hotels, killing at least 253 people and wounding 500 more. While our Easter celebration had us shouting alleluias, talking about lambs, icons, and sharing daffodils, and the biggest challenge we faced was figuring out how to get all of us through communion quickly; Christians in Sri Lanka were being targeted by terrorists during their Easter morning worship.

The Catholic Church has cancelled Sunday masses until further notice, and that makes a great deal of sense. But the Anglican bishops in Sri Lanka have taken a different approach. They wrote to clergy, wardens and lay leadership urging them to “prayerfully discern whether it is prudent to hold the worship” on Sunday. Their statement said that local church officials:

will need to make an assessment of their ground situation before they make a final decision, because the dynamics and ground situations differ from one community to another or one area to another area.²

They continued:
If you feel it is not prudent to hold worship in your churches in the prevailing circumstances, then please refrain from having any gathering that may not be advisable until there is an improvement in the current situation in the country. On the other hand, you must not lose sight of the fact that the intention of the forces of darkness and these perpetrators is to stop us worshipping our God and to cripple everyday life by driving fear into people. During the 30 years civil War our worshipping communities were only prevented from meeting for worship only due to curfews. Further if you are unable to meet as a congregation on a Sunday please look at other creative means to ensure that the worship and the sacramental aspects of the faithful are not disrupted.³

Can you imagine it? Getting a similar statement from our bishop? And Dennis, Heather and I sitting down with our vestry, to figure out whether or not we would have church today? If it were dangerous to be Christian – to worship openly today; would we have the courage, as a community, to hold services, to stand in witness, no matter what? Would you come if we did? That’s what our Sri Lankan siblings in Christ are deciding and living out in witness today and in the weeks to come.

And it’s very similar to what the disciples were experiencing in the Gospel text we hear today. They are in the locked room, heartbroken and grieving, and hiding because they are afraid, the same forces that killed Jesus could come for them.

At first, Jesus doesn’t ask anything of the disciples – he doesn’t expect them to be brave and to take on the forces of darkness, he comes to meet them right where they are. There in that locked room. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He shows them that it’s really HIM, and he wishes them peace again. Then he breathes on them, empowering them with the Holy Spirit, granting them the power to forgive the sins of others or retain them. And he sends them forth.

A comment of note – their “fear of the Jews” is a fear of those who killed Jesus. It’s important that we not let John’s polemic against the Jews add to the rhetoric which divides us, or worse, inflames misguided hatred against the Jews. (Jesus and his disciples were Jewish.)

Even as I write this, the nightly news is reporting another attack on worshippers. This time in a synagogue in Poway, California, while worshippers celebrated the final day of the Passover celebration, one person was killed, and three others wounded. The rabbi, who was one of those shot, continued preaching, telling his congregation to stay strong. I’m just piecing this together here, but that might mean: that after the gunman with the semi-automatic opened fire, and people were shot, and the man was chased off… that the rabbi, shot through the hand, continued his sermon, and people stayed to hear it.

Friends, I’m not sure I’m made of such stuff – are you? I hope we need never find out.

When anyone is targeted for their faith, it happens to all of us. When anyone is made to feel unsafe at worship – we are all unsafe. All people of faith, all places of worship. We are all in this together. The sooner we realize this – the safer we and the entire world will be.

Those who are claiming responsibility for the attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka are calling it retribution for the attacks on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand. The 50 innocent lives lost in New Zealand are now being used as justification for the loss of another 250 plus innocent people. All of whom just wanted to worship as they chose to that day. Just like everyone else; just like all of us.

My Friends, if we choose to stay in the locked room, hiding behind the fact that they probably aren’t looking for us (face it, we aren’t likely to be the targeted group in our context). Or if we choose to be fearful and reactive – the way our news media might have us live; the violence may never end.

As we said last Sunday, as people who follow the Risen Christ, the way we speak, and the way we live – it all matters. Empowered by the Spirit, we have to leave that room with faith and courage and move out into the world to share Christ’s peace with the people around us.

Sometimes we do that responsively. In Sri Lanka on the Friday following the Easter bombings, a mosque near one of the bombed churches posted a large banner on the outer wall of the Mosque, which read:

Muslims condemn the senseless killings of innocent Christians at worship in their churches and celebrating Easter Sunday. There’s no place in Islam for extremists.⁴

Sometimes we do that a little more pro-actively. This morning, in North Wales, members of the local Muslim community will gather outside Bangor Cathedral, as the congregation of the Cathedral gathers for their 11 am service – in a show of solidarity with Christians in Sri Lanka. Last Monday, Ayad Mawla, from the Bangor Islamic Centre, wrote to the Dean of Bangor, condemning the “abhorrent events” and asking for permission to make a symbolic gesture of solidarity against terrorist attacks on religious buildings. As the Bishop of Bangor, Andy John, explains:

We are all conscious that there are forces which seek to set people against each other and to create a climate of fear and suspicion. This gracious gesture by our Muslim friends shows we can overcome hatred and violence… [and] builds on the excellent relationships we have established together between Cathedral and the Islamic community.⁵

What does a gesture by a Muslim community in North Wales toward their Christian neighbors at the Anglican Cathedral really have to do with the attacks on the churches in Sri Lanka? Everything. It shows their collective community how they feel about extremism, where they stand on the issues that might be considered divisive, it’s an act of unity in the face of division, and a way of waging peace. On behalf of all people of faith. Peace that brings life to all.

Which is the kind of Peace Jesus is extending to the disciples, the peace we are to extend to others. For us, that’s the peace of Christ: peace that brings life to all.

The questions before us this morning are difficult ones, because they are real. Are there situations in our midst which ask us to be responsive? Do we need to do more than that?
Are there ways we need to be pro-active in waging the peace of Christ? If so, where, and for whom?

As we live out our proclamation of the Risen Christ – how might we be agents of Christ’s peace? In our daily lives? In our community? In the world?

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

1 Anglican bishops in Sri Lanka advise clergy to “prudently discern” whether to hold services
Posted on: April 26, 2019 6:28 PM,
2 Anglican bishops in Sri Lanka advise clergy to “prudently discern” whether to hold services
Posted on: April 26, 2019 6:28 PM,
3 Anglican bishops in Sri Lanka advise clergy to “prudently discern” whether to hold services
Posted on: April 26, 2019 6:28 PM,
4 Sri Lanka bombings: All the latest updates, April 26, 2019,
5 Anglican bishops in Sri Lanka advise clergy to “prudently discern” whether to hold services
Posted on: April 26, 2019 6:28 PM,