On April 4th, 1968, just after 6pm, a man – who had made it his mission to advocate for the dignity and respect deserved but not received for multitudes of people just like him (people who were disenfranchised from their own inheritance and colonized by an empire too large to imagine failing) – was killed, taken out of the world, his voice to be heard no more.
The parallels between the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the deaths of martyrs across the centuries are manifold, and this morning, as we recall the story of the grieving and fearful disciples after the death of their leader at the hands of another group of violent and fearful people under the occupation of another empire, the likeness cannot be ignored.
What were those close to King feeling 50 years ago – hopelessness, fear, grief, rage, vulnerability, disbelief? So many people have faced such heartache: The family members of loved ones who have been shot to death by police officers because they were perceived to be a threat, even when nothing was in their hands, even when their backs were turned to the officers with guns, even when they were known to their local law enforcement previously. There are people in our country who don’t just go through a season of hopelessness, fear, grief, rage, vulnerability, disbelief. It’s their entire life, living as a disenfranchised and despised people.
What gives me hope is how God emboldens us to push forward, even as we face our own hopelessness and pain. One example for this morning is that fifty years after that terrible moment, fifty years to the day, religious leaders from around the country gathered to act against the prevalence of prejudice and bias, the stubbornness of racism and hatred, which at the moment seem to be more explicit in our political discourse, as witnessed by the rise to prominence of white nationalist movements and the full-throated defense of alternative narratives over established, demonstrable facts. People are living under lies instead of in the truth; people are hiding in the dark instead of walking in the light.
What gives me hope is that some people, seeing the risk and feeling the precariousness of their own lives, will still follow their Teacher in the way of compassion and reconciliation anyway. What gives me hope is that, after almost 2000 Easters, parts of the Church are still moving forward toward God’s will. That gives me hope. How does it begin?
The Church’s response to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ all started one Easter evening, when those who had once gone out into the villages two-by-two, carrying nothing with them, had now barricaded themselves in for the night. The sun was going down, as the disciples were grieving the loss of their Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. They were in fear for their lives, each perhaps lost in their own thoughts, completely set adrift.
For security in that day, the houses there probably didn’t have windows. And if there were, they were likely small so no one could climb through, located high up on the wall, and, as was the building practice in Jerusalem at the time, they were probably facing east to avoid heavy rains from the west getting blown inside. Through whatever slits were in the walls of that crowded house, the sky was turning into night. So the room must have been getting very dark, fearful, crowded, and chaotic.
Sometimes are hearts are like that. We can be pleasant on the outside – polite and presentable. But the fear is on the inside, unexamined, still hiding in the dark. Too often we are locking ourselves inside our own dark rooms filled with fear and shame.
But Jesus doesn’t make us linger in the dark.
In that locked house, as if out of nothing, all of a sudden, on the first day of that week, from all the chaos and darkness and hopelessness, the very “light of the world” appeared to the Church and exclaimed, “Peace be with you.” That evening finished just as the Gospel of John began, telling us that Jesus “was the light of all people. [And] the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It wasn’t just a prologue; it was a foreshadowing.
Then Jesus said to them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The work was not done just because their leader was crucified. Amen? The work is not done just because our Savior was crucified. Because taking part in a church means you’re engaging in something bigger than yourself. You’re joining in on something that you can’t always control, can’t always take hold of, can’t always comprehend. But you still have to do something about it. You’re part of a whole world that’s even bigger than what you make of it. And this world needs you.
It needs you to forgive it for its violence and greed, its hatred and prejudice, its pain it causes and its unkindness it clings to. The world needs you to forgive it of its trespasses, as you and I seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed. And if we don’t, if we refuse to forgive the world of its evils, then its sins are retained. They are retained in us; they are weights we carry with us, wherever we go, no matter how far removed we ever thought we were from the offence. We retain the sins of all we refuse to forgive. And it gets heavy, an awful burden to bear.
The Good News is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are made whole. You can, with God’s help, learn to forgive those who have harmed you. You can, with God’s help, learn to relinquish the charges you hold against your neighbor and keep as a weapon for your own self-defense. You can, with God’s help, see in the world around you the possibility of new beauty, new life, and new light, rather than regret, grief, and longing for something lost, which will never return.
Because you are sent to a world that needs to know that God is here. God is here with us right now, and there’s no more wondering, no more worrying – no more sitting in the dark or in fear or in turmoil. The deep and everlasting truth is that we all can find belonging in God.
And Jesus communicates all this good news with the simple greeting: Peace be with you.
To each other we will say in worship, Sunday to Sunday, “Peace be with you.” When we share Christ’s peace with one another, we recognize that our relationships with each other and the world are tied to our relationship with God, and that Christ brings us together from our various backgrounds and binds us into one people – one extended family, regardless of race or sex or anything else – living together in one house, the Church, which welcomes all and in Christ reconciles all and heals all.
So hear me when I say to you: Peace be with you. Amen.