Peace be with you.
Fifty years ago, my Uncle was around the age of twelve and was on his way home from school with some friends. They ran into some older teens who were celebrating that “that SOB that had been causing all that trouble had been killed. Life would go back to normal.” Uncle Jack, who would later become an eagle scout and an attorney and family man like his father, had always been one to honor laws, rules, and the good guys. He still wasn’t sure who this bad man was, but Jack was excited that he wasn’t going to cause problems anymore. Jack hurried home to share the news with his mother but was halted once he entered the home which held a drastically different ambiance from what was happening in the streets. The curtains were drawn. The lights were all out. The house was silent except for his mother’s sobbing that he heard in another room. He knew something terrible had happened and ran to find her sitting by herself in the dark with a candle lit to serve as a memorial flame. My grandmother, a white Episcopalian who devoted her life to her family, her classrooms of brown and black children, and social justice efforts throughout the world, looked at her son and through her tears stated, “Jack they killed him. They killed Martin Luther King Jr today. Our nation is filled with hate and racism and they killed the man who was leading the movement against it all.” So, this twelve-year-old boy joined his mother in her grief, and his was for more than the death of this great man of God.
I wonder if the various emotions that our nation experienced that week of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death were in any way similar to the emotions that permeated Jerusalem in the days after Christ’s death. Both had witnessed the gruesome execution of a man who was using God’s word to go against a system of oppression and hate. However, Jerusalem put to death the Son of God and, of the crowd of people who had ordered and witnessed Christ’s death, I wonder if any person had pondered if He, perhaps, really was the Son of God? Or even, maybe a Holy teacher who should have lived. Or had they already moved onto fixation and hysteria over the next threat against the state and most importantly, their God?
The Disciples were hidden away in the locked Upper Room in what I imagine to be filled with a range of emotions such as sorrow, shame, guilt, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty in if the authorities were going to come after them, too. These disciples were all grappling with their own realities in how they chose to respond to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. There was Peter who had denied Christ, some who had abandoned Christ in his arrest and death, those who chose to stay with him during his final breaths and those who watched him die from a distance. Now the Disciples were hiding out and perhaps they would sit in the darkness, too.
Then Jesus appeared in this locked room and stated to his friends, “Peace be with you.” He showed them the wounds of his hands and his side and as the Disciples rejoiced, Christ repeated “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The repetition of this traditional Jewish greeting is imperative because it eliminated the Disciples cowardice and sin and enveloped them in Christ’s love and grace.
Then Jesus seemed to bounce.
The only disciple that was not present was Thomas, which I find fascinating because all the other disciples were hiding out in fear and shame. But Thomas was out. We don’t know what he was doing but we do know it was not hiding with the rest of the disciples. Out of curiosity, I asked Aaron Klinefelter (who is also preaching today) of his thoughts about Thomas, and he replied “I think he was out for pizza.” Eh, maybe manna and fish.
Thomas returned to his friends and this is where I believe that Thomas’ unfortunate nickname of “Doubting Thomas” should be perhaps, “Honest Thomas” because it is not as if he was unreasonable with his doubt that Jesus had resurrected from the dead and came back to visit his friends in the Upper Room. Thomas simply requested to have the same proof as his friends who actually saw Jesus and His wounds. Thomas is relatable because the disciples have all been though tremendous trauma and stress and it is in moments like this where one is more likely to question God’s providence and even existence. However, Thomas maintained his faith and refused to be shamed into blind faith or ignore what he knew to be truth; which was that Jesus died one that cross and was laid in a tomb. He refused to ignore this reality in order to believe what he did not have proof of. Thomas used his God given wisdom and intelligence to make judgements for his faith and treasured relationships with God and Christ. God Bless Honest Thomas.
Then, as Jesus faithfully does, he showed back up for his friends. Just as Jesus does for each of us during all circumstances, especially turmoil and confusion. He offered Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounds and Thomas immediately confessed his faith. Jesus gently chided Thomas for his doubt with “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet to have come to believe”. Which I love because Jesus will always be bigger than our doubt and our doubt is always welcome, especially in the Episcopal Church, but our doubt does require for us to be willing to be in communion with Christ, to touch His wounds, and experience His resurrection. Thomas’ honesty, doubt, and discernment inspire me in more than my relationship with our Holy Trinity. I strive to imitate Thomas in formulating my own judgements against group mentality, in both religious and secular thought.
Last Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. MLK was a pastor and a prophet. He announced the Good News of freedom, equality and peace to the Black community and shook the core of the white majority with such effectiveness that many of them became enlightened allies. Those who were Christians began to understand that racism and oppression held no place in our faith in the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. His entire movement was found within the greeting of “Peace be with you.”
Where I specifically find strength in King’s life and ministry is that he accepted the Call to serve the Civil Rights Movement with great apprehension and he was honest about his temptations to quit the movement when his and his family’s lives were under threat. Yet, he held firm to his relationship with God through prayer, petition, sheer tenacity, and devotion to laying bare the wounds of our nation for all to witness so that there would be a possibility for a resurrection of the American people to be free of their oppression of others and of themselves.
In this Easter season, I wonder how are we called to tear down the systems of oppression and witness the resurrection and presence of Jesus Christ in our own lives? And, in this witness and discipleship of the life that is offered in Christ’s wounds, how are we honoring the complexity and magnitude of our God, by honoring and embracing the curiosity, doubt, and exhaustion that those who are struggling or new in their faith experience?
In honor of Rev. Dr. King Jr. and our Savior Jesus Christ, what I do know is that emulating Christ is always the best strategy for most practices in life and He begins with “Peace be with you”.