Luke 24:36-49 – Memorial Day Weekend
I read about a man this week who had not seen his family in over 20 years. There had been conflict in the family and decided to leave home and never return. More than 20 years later he had a change of heart and decided to reconcile with his family. He gathered up all his emotional courage and returned home. Now, upon seeing the man at the door, his mother and sisters responded much like the early followers of Jesus when he appeared out of nowhere; startled and fearful. I mean you can understand their reaction, right? This mother and her daughters had not expected to ever see the man again. Their minds must have been reeling. Was it really him? Could he really be back? But finally, their fear gave way to joy, the joy that this son and brother was alive and had returned to them. Throughout their visit the mother and sisters would say to him, “We can’t believe it’s you,” and would touch him and hug him for a sense of verification that it was really him.
Now, in a very real way, that’s how it was with the disciples and Jesus. They had seen Jesus crucified. Many of them had abandoned him in that hour while some had stayed and heard his last breath. Those who had remained removed him from the cross, they felt the cold numbness of his stiff dead body. They had laid him in the tomb and closed it shut. But whether they had remained or left, all of them were grieving. And yet, like the man who returned to his mother and sisters after a 20-year absence, here he was standing before them, flesh and bone, alive and in their presence![I]
But the crux of this story, the brass tacks if you will, comes when we combine the shock and fear and the eventual realization of resurrection, with Jesus’ greeting: “Peace be with you.” Jesus offers these frightened disciples a personal, embodied, unbelievable, incarnational sense of peace. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt connected to God, so in-tune with the divine rhythm, that you actually embodied a sense of inner peace?
Barbara Brown Taylor offered a sermon on this text in which she beautifully describes this embodied experience of Jesus, and the way he drew their attention to his hands and his feet. She poetically recalls the ways the hands and feet of Jesus had been important in his ministry, healing people, breaking bread, traveling around with the good news. Now, wounded and bruised, those same hands and feet were proof to the disciples that, in her words, “…that he had gone through the danger and not around it.”
Through the danger, and not around it. I think we spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find a way around difficult situations, rather than trying to live through them. And who could blame us? Who wants to experience pain or danger, or come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth? And yet, Taylor says, we bear hope for the world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole church all those years ago. We are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today, “Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes but our hands and feet,” she writes, “what we have done with them and where we have gone with them.”[ii]
Our hands and our feet. We are, my friends, the hands and feet of God’s peace in the world today. Far too often I hear Christian media, and I hear in pastoral circles, the articulation of a faith that’s solely based in morality, duty, or a denunciation of the “other” whoever the current “other” may be. The use rules and doctrine build walls that obscure their vision of the poor and the suffering. That’s the “finding a way around danger” that Taylor was talking about. But if we are to take seriously the teaching of Christ and go through the danger, then we must take this idea of being God’s hands and feet, and I would add, God’s heart and voice, seriously as well.
How? Well, we are the hands and feet of peace when we welcome the stranger, when we open our home to the refugee and our heart to the immigrant. We are the hands and feet of peace when we practice justice and promote equality among all people and when we seek to preserve and restore the beauty of nature. We are the hands and feet of peace when we visit the lonely, feed the hungry, house the homeless, or lift-up the downtrodden. We are God’s voice of peace whenever we speak words of kindness and we are God’s heart of peace whenever we participate in acts of compassion.
My friends, “Jesus came to knock down walls and widen the circle of inclusion, rather than draw strict theological and moral lines. It’s not that Jesus had no standards, [of course he did] But his mission was focused on opening God’s [realm] to more and more people.”[iii] And he did that, and continues to do that, by offering the unconditional sense of peace to all people.
You know, a wise friend once told me that there cannot truly be world peace until all people, or at least a vast majority of them, are able to find an inner peace. You see, when we’re out there being God’s hands and feet of peace, it’s not only the other, the one we’re serving, who’s receiving the Peace of Christ, we’re gaining a sense of peace as well. Because peace, inner peace and the ever-widening circles of peace that come as a result of finding inner peace, begin with transformation. The Dalai Lama once said, “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.”[iv] Although it’s difficult, it’s the only way.
My blessing for each of you, as we depart this place today, is this: “May the Peace of God surround you; may the Peace of Christ uphold you; and may the Peace of the Spirit be within you, now, and forever from now. Amen and the people of God said, Amen.
[iv] H.H. the Dalai Lama in Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanb (Bantam Books, 1991)