Sermon for April 19, 2020
During World War II, Winston Church, the prime mister of Great Britain, would often flash a sign with two fingers that was meant to indicate V for victory. He was such a positive presence for his people and the V was his way to show defiance in the face of the constant bombing the British people were experiencing. Occasionally, he would make the sign with his palm facing inward. That was considered an insulting gesture, and when Churchill showed the sign that way he meant lets stick it to the Germans. His gesture is remembered as a sign of hope and determination (perhaps even resolution).
In the 1960’s, the V sign was used by people as a sign of peace by those who opposed the Vietnam War. In fact it was called the peace sign. President Richard Nixon began to use this as a sign of victory and a sign of peace. Nixon would often flash this sign with both hands. He even offered this sign as he was leaving the White House when he resigned from the presidency. Since then, the sign has been used in many ways. Some people, particularly the Japanese, use this sign in amateur photographs to indicate friendship and peace.
It is the V sign used as a sign of peace that I would ask you to consider today. In our gospel, Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper locked room, after his resurrection. They were frightened and uncertain of what to do next. He said the words “Peace be with you”. As we continue to isolate ourselves because of the pandemic we are facing, we are unable to greet each other in person. I suggest that you consider flashing that old sign of peace, a sign which is not often used these days, as an indication that you are offering God’s peace to each other despite the separation we face and despite the hardships we encounter.
When Jesus said those words of peace to his apostles he most assuredly said to them Shalom alaichiem or very similar words in Aramaic. As you know, Shalom is a Hebrew word that means so many things. It can mean peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. I am sure that it meant all of those things to the apostles. For they were totally lost. They grieved the death of their friend, leader, teacher and Messiah. They didn’t know what to do next. They were afraid. In his resurrection, Jesus changed everything for them. Jesus gave them a sense of wholeness, and a knowledge that life for them would be well. They came to know what he expected of them.
I feel that we need all of those things in our life today. I worry about the people in our congregation and I wonder what the future holds for us all. Yet even though I know God is here, I can still have questions. I can still wonder why God seems to be hidden from us. We might be like Thomas, looking for a sign.
I am reminded of a scene from the movie the two popes. In that movie, Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, described a time when he was sent away to a small town in a distant state. We might think of it as his time of exile. In the movie, he gave a sermon to the local people in the small town. In the sermon, he said that parishioners would tell him that they prayed but they did not think that God responded to their prayers. These same people were certain that priests never had that problem. After all, priests always feel connected to God. But the future Pope disagreed. He had many times when he didn’t feel God’s presence in his life and it made him feel as if he was not qualified to give a sermon.
I have had those experiences myself and I remember my own experience as I read the gospel. For Thomas struggled to believe until he had some personal and physical evidence. Thomas said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” So why does God remain hidden from us. I read a commentary about that this week. The author asked “Why doesn’t God reveal himself so concretely and physically that no one could doubt his existence? His answer came from Karl Rahner, a German priest and theologian. God isn’t hidden, he says, we just don’t have the eyes to see God because our eyes aren’t attuned to that kind of reality: “We are just discovering today that one cannot picture God to oneself in an image that has been carved out of the wood of the world. This experience is not the genesis of atheism, but the discovery that the world is not God.” You see, we are not weak because we don’t see God. We are only people of this world and God is not of this world. Our struggle is to understand something that is not of this world.
One of the keys to faith comes in the resurrection of Jesus and in the witness that has been given to us by the apostles. In today’s reading from 1st Peter, we hear again the witness of saints who have gone before us and their witness gives us hope. Jesus “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. We are told in the book of Acts that these disciples were filled with so much hope that they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
It is hard for me to imagine the excitement of those first believers. They ate together and were joyful. They weren’t worried about whether they were overeating, they didn’t worry about where their next meal would come from. They were so excited by the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus that it filled their entire lives.
We may struggle with where God is on occasion but let us always live with hope because of his resurrection. As Paul told us in Corinthians, we live in the three virtues of faith, hope, and love (or charity). Hope is a virtue that we can choose. We are thankful and glad that we have hope in this life because of the resurrection of Jesus. We can be like the first disciples. Our hope allows us to have the patience that we will see God, that God will triumph. And it is in hope that we live with joy in the resurrection of Jesus.
So we come back to that night when Jesus came through the doors to see the apostles. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you”. That first evening he said it not once but twice. Peace be with you. The next week, Jesus said it again. This time he also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Those words are for each and every one of us. Jesus didn’t complain about the lack of faith that Thomas had. Jesus doesn’t complain about the wrongs we have done. He just reaches out to you and says, Peace be with you. These are words that can solve all of my worries. I ask you to hear Jesus say it to you over and over again. Peace be with you.
The Peace of Jesus is different than any other peace that we have been given. It is a peace which goes beyond our understanding. It is a peace that is available to us in our prayers or in our daily lives.
It is with faith and hope and joy and love that we offer God’s Peace to others. In this time of uncertainty, in this time when we cannot touch each other to offer a sign of peace in person, I ask you to lift your hands and show the sign of peace to each other. In that sign of peace, you can express a little bit of what Winston Churchill expressed. For God’s peace can be a sign of hope and a sign of determination that we will come through this together. And the sign of peace can be our certainty that Jesus is with us. It can be a sign of harmony and wholeness as well. And our sign of peace can be an expression of God’s love that we share with others. May God’s peace be with you. Amen.
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