Summary: Amid the anxiety and fear, and all the troubles of this world, Christ comes into our presence, offering his peace.
We have just come through a remarkable week. The Tennessee Valley, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia, experienced a line of storms unlike anything we have ever had here. As you all know, for an entire day, we were pummeled by line after line of heavy storms and tornadoes. Paul Barys said that without question, this was the worse line of storms ever to hit the Tennessee Valley. And as we all know, it was scary. Very, very scary. As news of those storms continued to come through, I imagine that we all responded in much the same way. We went down to our basements. Or if we don't have basements, we climbed into a closet or a bathtub in the middle of our homes and we stayed there behind closed doors, huddled together, until the storm passed.
It's interesting that we would have that experience just a few days after Easter. For it is not unlike the experience of the disciples on that first Easter so many years ago. You see, the disciples of Jesus that first Easter Sunday were downright terrified. John's gospel paints a picture of a group of frightened, discouraged, downhearted DISbelievers! The crucifixion of Jesus had devastated them, and no matter what anyone said to them, they could not be shaken of their grief and sorrow. Though the women had shared the news of Jesus' resurrection with the disciples, the disciples could not believe it, and they had to see for themselves.
John picks up that story in the reading we heard this morning. He begins by saying, "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders." The disciples were locked behind closed doors because they were afraid. They were a timid, frightened group of followers, and it's no wonder. Not too long ago, throngs of people were welcoming Jesus, waving palm branches and singing praises to him. Then, just a few days later, he is arrested, put on trial, and crucified on a cross. The picture John gives us is of a shell-shocked bunch of disciples who gather in hiding to mourn the death of their leader. But they also gather in a common fear, afraid of that knock on the door that will signal they are next.
Fear shut them out and anxiety locked them up. We know that feeling, don't we? Ours is a world that is anxious and afraid. We live with the realities of tornadoes and earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. All around this world there is terrorism and random violence. We worry about our health and our savings. We fear the future and dread the past. We fear the stability of our jobs and worry if our lives have or ever will amount to anything. We are afraid of sickness and the ever-present concern that as we grow older our bodies will give out. We fear diseases that have no cure and cures that have no effect. There are all sorts of things that make us afraid, all kinds of disasters that send us running for protection. And that is exactly what the disciples faced that first Easter evening.
It seems as if the lives of those eleven men were in ruins. For three years they had devoted their lives to Jesus. They had left home and family, jobs and security. They had dropped everything to follow him. They had seen him preach and teach, cure the sick and perform miracles, they had even seen him raise the dead and proclaim the word of God. And then they had watched him die on a cross! The worst of their fears had come true and now they find themselves caught in a whirlpool of anxiety. The mocking, the beating, the horror of his death had left the disciples a shell-shocked, frightened, disbelieving bunch whose worst fears were now a reality.
But then suddenly, that first Easter evening, as they huddled together terrified in that locked room, everything changed. In an instant, Jesus was with them, among them to soothe their fears. In the midst of all their worry and anxiety, the risen Savior came back into their lives. And his first words to that terrified bunch were, "Peace be with you." That is what they most needed to hear. What they needed was their lives, their thoughts, there hopes and dreams back again. They needed to be set free from the fear that locked them in. They needed what only Christ could give them; peace, forgiveness, new hope, and a reason for living. And that's exactly what Christ did for them. It's what Christ does for us. He sets us free and makes us whole again. That's what the peace of Christ is all about! Being restored to the goodness that God created in us, being made whole, being restored to live and love again without all the fear and anxiety. Christ gave the disciples peace because that's what they needed the most.