the following is the Homily preached by Kathleen Hart-Zavoli on April 19, 2015.
Picture it: It is the evening of the Resurrection. You have already heard Mary Magdalene tell she has seen the Lord. You are locked in a room with other disciples of Jesus. Not just the chosen Apostles of Jesus but those who believe in and followed Jesus. You are afraid of the Jewish leaders because they had arrested Jesus and put him to death. Your Faith is shaken because ” if they did this to Jesus what will happen to me if the Pharisees know I am devoted to the one who was crucified.
Then suddenly, without warning, Jesus is there offering what to you is an average every day greeting of “peace be with you.” Something equivalent to “Hi there!” or “How’s it Going?” That you’d offer to some one you know today. Here, to you and the other disciples gathered Jesus offers what appears on the surface to be an ordinary greeting of “Shalom aleikhem” as if the turmoil of the Crucifixion and grave had not happened.
“Peace be with you.” In the Gospel reading from John these are the first words Jesus spoke to the disciples, not once but three times, after His resurrection and the same words we use every Sunday before we enter into the Eucharistic prayer. Yet there is a distinct difference in the way Jesus uses the greeting and the way we have come to use it week in and week out.
Each Sunday as we leave our seats and offer one another a hug or hand shake with the words of “Peace” or “Peace be with you” we do so more in a social manner while we ask how someone is doing or let them know they’ve been missed after a long absence just as the Jewish people offered “Shalom aleikhem” to one another in their daily encounters in the market or on the road. But, Jesus, in His salutation, is offering the disciples much more than a everyday “How do you do?” Through His suffering on the Cross and the grave Jesus Christ has brought the reconciling Peace that can only come from God in heaven. Shalom aleikhem tells the disciples they–and all humanity–have all received forgiveness for their sins and they can share in the ceaseless joy and peace that comes from Jesus’ crucifixion, death and Resurrection.
After revealing the wounds of the cross He offers the words of Peace again but proceeds to commission the disciples to “carry it forward” with the words “As the Father has send me, I now send you.”. They receive the breath of the Holy Spirit and are charged to go out and forgive the sins of many. Not always an easy thing to do for us mere mortals.
The Amish community is one such group that exemplifies living out the new essence of Shalom aleikhem. In 2006 Charles Roberts IV entered West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with a gun taking hostages. He shot 10 young girls, killing 5 of them before killing himself. The Amish community of Nickel Mines response to the horror was quick. A grandfather warned younger relatives not to think evil of the gunman and a father let it be known that Charles Roberts now sat before the judgement of God. Members of the Amish community comforted the Roberts family, offered the family their forgiveness for what Charles had done, some attended his funeral and one family even invited Charles’ wife to attend the funeral of their daughter.
In a letter,to the Amish community the wife of Charles Roberts wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” The Roberts family had received that reconciling Peace which Jesus gave the world through His death and resurrection.
So how should we view the peace we offer each other every Sunday. First, I would suggest that we remember and use the full greeting of “The Peace of the Lord be always with you.” instead of our shortened version of “Peace” or “Peace be with you”. In this way we acknowledge and are offering each other the Peace Jesus brought us through his suffering, death snd resurrection. The reconciling, eternal peace that comes from God rather than offering each other a hearty “Hi there!”.
Second, we should step outside our comfort zone when we approach each other to offer the peace. Let’s not try to make it around the church to greet everyone. Instead, we should be intentional as we approach one another. Use the passing of the peace as an act of asking for and giving forgiveness to one another before approaching the altar for the Eucharist. Choose a few people. Maybe it’s someone who’s been in the congregation but you rarely if ever have connected. There may be someone who you know is suffering and needs to be reminded of the reconciling peace of Christ. It could even be someone with whom you have had a disagreement or falling out.
And finally, as we hear the words of dismissal “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” at the end of the service may we see our commissioning to offer forgiveness and reconciliation beyond the walls of this building to the whole of this community and the world just as Jesus commissioned the disciples on that first day to be the church in the world. Instead of pitying or criticizing the homeless people living under the 690 bridge on Hiawatha Blvd, when you know you are heading that way bring a meal or a blanket to offer them. Offer kindness when you are met with anger or hatred. Pray for your enemies.
As you can see, each step becomes increasingly difficult because we are human and have emotions and frailties. I am sure that offering this reconciling peace in Christ is not always easy even for those in the Amish community. As a Resurrection people this is our calling and we offer the peace of Lord weekly to strengthen each other in reconciliation just as Jesus offered that reconciling peace not once but three times to the disciples.
The peace of the Lord be always with you!