Harrowing Of Hell
April 3, 2016

Peace Be With You

Preacher: Diana Bender

Sometimes here at Epiphany we talk about the Kingdom of God, where everything happens the way God wants it to happen, when God wants it to happen and how God wants it to happen. This contrasts with each of our own Kingdoms, like the Kingdom of Diana, where (at least in my fantasy) everything happens my way.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes (at least on the surface) the kingdom of Diana can feel a little more comfortable than the Kingdom of God where I have to do hard things like love my enemies or give up control or believe something that seems a little hard to believe.

I think God’s Kingdom goes beyond comfort to a much deeper gift of real truth or real presence which is not always exactly comfortable And certainly, when my human plans are forced to change, even when I can see that change is more kingdom of God–like it’s usually not pain free.

I had it all planned out. I had left my non-profit ED job to take on a great new project. I knew how to make it happen, I had clear vision of what was needed, and a fabulous plan for start-up and implementation. It felt right. All the signs were positive, I had one great source of support, and things were looking good for finding others. And then, all of the sudden, my primary source of support disappeared. In 30 seconds, the project was washed away. Months of dreaming and planning. No warning, a complete shock. Now, I had no job, and the future I’d visualized was not possible. I was devastated. The kingdom of Diana had taken a hard blow.

And so I think it was also—to a much greater degree—with the disciples. Our gospel today opens at the point where the Kingdoms of the disciples have been utterly and completely destroyed. They thought they were getting a King—a Messiah who would redeem Israel, take over a literal throne, and throw out the Romans. Things were looking good towards that end—hordes of people were following Jesus, he clearly had divine power, and despite attempts by the authorities, he had repeatedly evaded capture. They even had a grand entry into Jerusalem, (remember the colt & the palms a few weeks ago?) And yet, in what felt like a flash, it was all over.

Not only was Jesus not King, but he had died a gruesome and painful death right before their very eyes. Things did not look good for them as Jesus’ followers. Dazed, confused, full of excruciating pain and loss, they nevertheless stumbled through the Sabbath, their high holy day of Passover. And then the following morning, the first day of the week, there was Mary with her crazy story of angels. Peter had verified it, but you know Peter. So, when today’s passage begins, it’s evening, they have retreated to a safe room, closed the door, and were trying to figure out what the heck to do. Bewildered, traumatized, likely questioning themselves and each other.

Have you ever second guessed yourself when things went horribly wrong? I bet they were wishing they could have done something—anything—to prevent this outcome, their absolute worst-case scenario had happened.

Then, who appears, in a mysterious way, but their beloved Jesus! And what does he say first? “Peace be with you.”

All the questioning of themselves, all the rethinking about how things went or should’ve gone it all gets washed away in a profound moment of peace and love. A moment of utter transformation. Jesus breathed on them, blowing away the fear, the anxiety, all those very human reactions to traumatic experiences.

With his peace and his gift of the Holy Spirit, he opens the door for another kind of rebirth: into a place of interior safety and peace—an internal safety that is surer than any external wall of a kingdom we might build. Because no matter what happened next, no matter how hard it was going to be, the peace of Christ, the breath of the Holy Spirit was in them.

It was the disciples who were gathered—more than just the 10 apostles—Jesus gave that entire faith community his gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit. And that means he gives it to us too. We all get to live in this new breath, reborn if you will, into a fuller reality.

What’s really remarkable to consider is that it’s entirely scientifically possible that we each could have inhaled one of those molecules that Jesus breathed out. So his peace could really be in our bodies. With that peace and breath, we can live more easily outside each of our own Kingdoms, more firmly resting in the Kingdom of God.

It was on Easter night that Jesus appeared, then eight days passed. There is regular work to do, the laundry, the food, the everyday problems to solve, and doubt or unbelief can begin to creep in. Was it real? Did it happen?

We don’t know if any of the other disciples doubted as Thomas did. But I’ve noticed in myself that after peak spiritual experiences, the reality of daily life in our human bodies can eat away at those sublime feelings. I mean, how long did it take for your Easter joy to dim? Thomas gets to hold or represent our collective uncertainty, our creeping doubt.

How does the daily reality of their (and our) lives synchronize with the new reality of a risen Jesus granting us peace? Enlivening us with the Holy Spirit? There is something grounding and physical about Thomas’ very earthy, concrete request. He says ‘I don’t know about this- I need to touch it to believe it.’ and then he does and says “oh my gosh, you really are God!’ Thomas speaks to all of us that need some concrete reassurance that this is real. We are invited to something similar at the Eucharist. We remember the sacrifice of Jesus, and if we can let go of our unbelief, we receive the presence of Jesus or the Holy Spirit as we eat and drink the sanctified bread and wine. We get to be physically reminded of that deeper reality with the bread and wine we put in our mouth, chew, and swallow.

This physical act reorients us to the reality of God’s presence in our lives, in the same way that Thomas’ physical act of putting his finger in Jesus’ side allowed him to see Jesus as God and rest more fully into the reality of the resurrection—the reality of the resurrected Jesus: where peace is the standard.

How can we live more fully into this peace, this breath? How can I, in my daily existence, live more fully in the Kingdom of God rather than in the kingdom of Diana? When I lost the core support for my dream project, I had no idea what to do. There were no other viable options. So I decided to experiment with trusting the Holy Spirit. In my prayer life I imagined myself jumping off the trapeze into a big net that in my mind’s eye was God. It felt like flinging myself to God because I did not know what to do, and it helped to pray an image that reflected my real desperation. I recommitted to the spiritual disciplines. I stayed in relationship.

And over time, some new opportunities emerged and eventually I found my actual life’s work. The discernment group process for people in change that I developed here in ministry at Epiphany combined with my professional experience morphed into a new career: coaching leaders and people going through change.

If I had started my big project, I would never have had time to develop this beautiful new vocation, which I love dearly. I can see now that this was my true calling, and if I hadn’t lost the support of the project (which at the time was super painful), I would not have gotten to this awesome place.

Change usually causes some pain. Sometimes it’s straightforward loss when a beloved dies or a grand plan is completely dashed, or a more bittersweet transition like sending a beloved child to college. But, Peace be with you! The breath of God is with us in these times of pain. If we can be present to the pain and open ourselves to the comfort of Jesus’ peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit we can get to the next step on the path.

The disciples were facing a change imposed on them: a terrifying pain filled with loss. And Jesus eased the way, appearing before them, breathing on them, allowing them to actually see true resurrection.

Sometimes in the midst of painful change it feels like we are blowing apart, being pulled away at the seams of our existence into a reality we don’t want.

And yet, Jesus and the Holy Spirit breathes into these places. This breath, this peaceful presence can heal us and strengthen us for the journey through and beyond the pain. Resurrection wouldn’t be resurrection without some kind of death or letting go. Do you need to let something die to access transformation? How can you let Jesus’ breath blow through you? Whatever pain you are facing, can you rest in Jesus’ peace?