April 11, 20100
The Rev. Leslie Chadwick
April 11, 2010
In elementary school, I was afraid of ghosts. We had an old convex photo of my great-great grandparents hanging in our hallway. The white hair and clothes glowed strangely against the green background. I was terrified of the picture, so my mom took it down. The next time my brother, sister, and I were playing hide-and-seek, I hid in my mother’s closet where there were no windows. I moved to the back of the closet where it was darkest. I saw a greenish glow coming from reflected glass. A cold fear ran through me. I threw open the closet door and screamed. It was the photograph! I’d been hiding right next to it!
I’m not the only one who has battled a fear of ghosts, death, and the unknown beyond. Shakespeare’s plays are filled with scenes of ghosts coming back to protest old wrongs. In Macbeth, the ghost of Banquo appears in Macbeth’s chair during a state dinner. Banquo was Macbeth’s friend and threat to the throne. So Macbeth had him murdered. There are 20 gashes in his head. Macbeth alone can see Banquo and shouts, “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake/Thy gory locks at me.” He laments the good old days when you could kill a person and he would stay in his grave. He says, “Now they rise again” and haunt you with their wounds.
The Bible has little to say about ghosts. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples are briefly afraid that Jesus is a ghost when he walks on water. At the end of the first Easter Day in Luke, the disciples have heard rumors of Jesus appearing to people. Suddenly Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” The disciples are startled and terrified, thinking that they see a ghost. Jesus chides them, “Why are you frightened?...Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” They are joyful and disbelieving, so he eats a piece of broiled fish in front of them. Then, he gives them a mission.
The gospel of John has nothing to say about ghosts. Instead, in today’s resurrection story, John has a lot to say about who Jesus is. The scene begins just like the one in Luke. It’s evening on the first day of the week, the day the women first found the tomb empty. But, in John, fear and anxiety consume the disciples before Jesus makes his appearance. They are locked behind doors for fear of the Jews. If they had a great boulder to roll in front of those locked doors, they would lodge it there. Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” I tried to say “Peace be with you” a few times to guess how Jesus might have said it. One of our church members says that when the clergy of St. Tim’s say, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you!” it’s as if someone just shouted, “Recess!” I don’t think Jesus says “peace” in a cheerful way. He has not come for a friendly reunion. His statement is an urgent order, “Peace be with you.” His very words bring about the peace he wills for the disciples. Jesus is nothing like a ghost. Yes, he passed through locked doors somehow. Yes, he’s no longer in his tomb. But he’s not like the ghost in Macbeth who tries to scare his betrayer with his wounds. Jesus doesn’t even show his disciples the wounds until AFTER he has spoken “Peace” to them. John says, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” Jesus shows him these wounds not for shock value, but so they’ll know who he is: The same man they spent three years with. The same one they betrayed and denied. The same one they last saw hanging dead on the cross. And a miracle happens. John tells us, “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” It blows me away to think of what Jesus must have been like for his friends to rejoice in that moment. They do not cry out in sadness for what they’ve done. They don’t shrink in fear at the gruesome wounds. The disciples have the sheer relief of recognition. They feel the relief of recognizing someone who loves them so deeply that he’s come to roll away the stones in their own hearts.
I’ve felt that sheer relief of recognition at several points in my life. Once it happened at a service our bishop has for the renewal of ordination vows. I’d been locked for weeks in fear and anxiety over a variety of things. I had been so busy trying to control those things that I had no idea how distant I was from God. I brooded over them in my pew. The day was glorious. New flowers were blooming everywhere, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing. I was aware of the beauty, but indifferent to it. Suddenly, the floodgates opened. It was as if a stone had been rolled away. The relief of recognition hit me over and over. First we sang one of my favorite hymns, the very hymn that we’re singing during communion today. It begins, “Deck thyself my soul with gladness, leave the gloomy haunts of sadness, come into the daylight’s splendor.” I couldn’t even sing the words because I knew that I would cry. I was so far from being able to deck myself with gladness, yet there was Jesus anyway, inviting me into the daylight’s splendor. The gospel, the sermon, communion, everything continued to draw me further and further out of my tomb. On my way back from communion, I saw a priest at the back of the church who has known me inside and out for most of my adult life. In the look of sheer love on her face, I saw Jesus and was filled with peace.
I did not feel joy on the way home or in the days that followed. That came later in its own time. But something inside me had changed. Jesus had ordered, “Peace be with you” with such force that a stone had been rolled away from my heart. It hit me that the peace the risen Christ brings often comes before joy or happiness. It is the peace that passes all understanding. This peace changes things inside you even before you can see a change in your circumstances. It gives you perspective. It frees you up to see things differently and to act without anxiety.
Jesus comes to each of us to roll away the stones that are too heavy for us in our lives. He helps us ask this question, “What is keeping your heart from gladness, peace, and joy?” He doesn’t come to us all in the same way or at the same time. He simply keeps showing up until we see for ourselves that he is indeed “Our Lord and our God” and that he loves us.
Jesus comes not just to make us feel better. He comes not on a social call. He comes with a purpose. When we finally stumble out of our tombs, we come out not as ghosts caught up in how we’ve been hurt or wronged; we emerge as God’s beloved children: forgiven, healed, renewed. Our Archbishop Rowan Williams insists, “the gospel will not ever tell us that we are innocent, but it will tell us that we are loved.” Once we experience the relief of recognition that we are loved, Jesus can do powerful things through us to set others free. He sends us out just as the Father has sent him to preach forgiveness and new life in all that we say and do. In the end, when we face our own death and the unknown of what is beyond, we need not stay locked in fear and anxiety. Our Lord and our God will come to us again to roll away the stone and invite us into the daylight’s splendor. So, may the peace of the Lord be always with you….