Sermon Title “Peace of Bread” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is the second Sunday after Easter, and Creekside’s second Sunday of PB&J: Praise Blessing and Joy. If you were here last week, you may have noticed that I’m going a bit out of order with how the gospel of John reports Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Last week I shared about a miraculous fishing catch, and Peter’s subsequent conversation with Jesus on the beach of the Sea of Tiberius — we find that account in John chapter 21. This morning I want to talk about an earlier appearance of Jesus to some of his disciples. This account is from John chapter 20, and it happens on the first day of the week — Sunday, by the Jewish week — the same Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead.
Many of the disciples are gathered in a room in Jerusalem and have locked the doors. There have been rumors swirling all day: Peter and John were at the tomb early in the morning, and saw that Jesus was not there, and the linen wrapping had been neatly rolled up where his body should have been. They left in confusion, and Mary Magdalene stayed behind. She came running back after them with the excited report that she had seen Jesus and spoken to him, but none of the disciples took that seriously — you know how hysterical women can be. But something was off for sure — someone had moved Jesus’ body, most likely the Jewish leaders, probably to make sure that there would be no gathering or devotion at the tomb. It was disturbing that the graveclothes had been removed; a final desecration of Jesus’ body and his memory. Whoever did it meant business — touching a dead body meant being unclean for a week. It was only a matter of time until the Jews came looking for Jesus’ followers. Best to stay locked away until the rumors blew over, and then maybe they could slink out and try to fade back into unexceptional lives.
I don’t blame the disciples for feeling this way: it had been a traumatic week. Fear can feed on itself, become paranoia, and warp our perspective of reality. Suddenly, everybody is a potential enemy who is out to get me. Maybe this cycle has never happened to you, but I’m pretty sure this was the dynamic going on — and likely escalating — in that locked room. And in the middle of that locked room, in that atmosphere of anxiety and fear, stands Jesus. He appears and says, “Peace be with you.” And just so they’re sure its Him, Jesus shows them the wounds in his hands and in his side. And suddenly the disciples go from fear of what the Jews did to Jesus’ dead body to joy that Jesus is alive and back with them. Again Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” I hope its obvious to anyone who has been anxious or paranoid that its difficult to be fearful and joyful at the same time.
I have been distressed by three separate incidents which have been reported in the news this week: one in Kansas City, one in New York state, and one in Texas. All three incidents involve innocent people who were in the wrong place, and a person with a gun who was afraid and shot them. You’ve probably heard these stories: a sixteen-year old high school student who rang the doorbell of the wrong house, looking for his younger brother; a car with three young women who got lost on a rural road with no cell service; two high school cheerleaders who walked up to the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot. These stories are disheartening because it’s so easy to be at the wrong house, or in the wrong driveway, or at the wrong car. You may know that Tim and Diane Lund have the same make and color of car which I drive, and I walk up to their car on a regular basis — even when there are only like two cars in the Creekside parking lot. I am so grateful they are not fearful or violent people. Fear, whether it’s justified or not, can make us act in ways we might regret for a long time. Into situations of terror and trauma, like the aftermath of his own crucifixion and death, Jesus says, Peace be with you.
Now I’m going to do something which preachers are not supposed to do. After last week, you might be wondering what could possibly be left which I shouldn’t do. I’ll tell you ahead of time, but please don’t tell my homiletics professor. I’m going to take resurrection accounts from different gospels and put them together. It’s a bit like combining thick creamy peanut butter and sweet gooey jelly to make a satisfying snack, but it’s bad exegesis. That’s the warning label.
In both John’s gospel, a post-resurrection appearance in chapter 21 and Luke’s gospel, a post-resurrection appearance in chapter 24, Jesus does this thing with his followers. It’s an ordinary thing, but especially in Luke’s account, it is what opens his followers’ eyes to the fact that they’ve been talking to the resurrected Christ for the past few hours. Do you know what that ordinary, everyday thing is? It is breaking bread. Breaking bread — literally tearing a loaf as we often do in our communion service — or even just sitting down for a meal with other folks, is something most of us do daily. Several times a day, if we’re lucky. Many religious traditions, including our Christian one, have a practice of giving thanks to God before breaking bread. Depending on who is at our table, breaking bread is an act of hospitality and fellowship and friendship. Breaking bread is an act of blessing — not only blessing the food, but blessing those around the table.
In John 20 verse 22, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on to the gathered disciples. This is nowhere near as dramatic as the tongues of fire which will descend on them on the day of Pentecost, but it is the same Spirit which brings peace and comfort and power. Jesus breathes that Spirit into an ordinary, everyday gathering which had turned fearful and anxious. Divine pyrotechnics makes for great drama, but the disciples had had all the drama they needed right then: what they needed was the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Some of you may remember that I am leading a monthly retreat group at Camp Mack. The book we are using is called The Cup of Our Lives by Joyce Rupp. She had some wonderful things to say about blessing in her final chapter. The words we speak to bless something or someone do not take something ordinary and make it something holy. Words of blessing acknowledge that things and people who have been created with care or created by God are already holy. Blessing reminds us of the sacred work of God which has already happened, and which we remember and celebrate through blessing. We can remember the holy in even our most ordinary activities: sharing a meal, being in fellowship with other people, a walk in nature. Blessing corrects our perspective from one of anxiety and scarcity and fear to a perspective of gratitude and generosity and peace.
I’ve shared this experience of mine before, but I believe it’s relevant. I was a runner for many years. Once, away from home, I was out running in the middle of the day by myself and was followed by a man in car. I was able to get away easily by cutting across someone’s yard, but when I got home and told my husband about this, he was upset and wanted me to promise I would never run alone again. I wouldn’t commit to that restriction, but I spent the next two weeks or so imagining that everyone I met while I was out on the trail was a potential assailant. It ruined the experience of running for me. I couldn’t enjoy nature around me, I couldn’t enjoy the time by myself because I was always afraid of what might happen next. I did some reading about self-defense, which wasn’t too reassuring until I found a writer who said that people who seem afraid are more likely to be victimized. When she meets a stranger, she looks them in the eye, smiles, and says “Good morning.” She offers them a blessing. That was game-changer for me. I don’t do anything reckless like go out in remote places by myself after dark. I’m a lot slower than I was 20 years ago; I don’t think I could out-run anyone. But I still look strangers in the eye, smile, and say “Good morning.” I’m so conditioned by now that I say “Good morning” no matter what time of day it is, which is a little embarrassing. The other person may not know they are receiving a blessing, but I try not to forget that’s my purpose. It’s so simple, it happens almost every day, and it has changed me and changed my experience of other people — especially strangers — to offer them the peace of Christ and the breath of the Holy Spirit. Being surly and suspicious certainly didn’t make me happy, and I wasn’t any safer. One has to wonder how things could have been different in Kansas City or upstate New York or Texas if, when confronted with an unarmed stranger, any of those shooters had asked, “Can I help you?” instead of firing their weapon. Blessing doesn’t usually make headlines; there’s a lot of profit and political power to be gained by peddling fear. Peace takes courage and character and confidence; it takes courage to be afraid and not want to hurt someone. It’s OK to lean on our faith to help us through situations when we feel like we may be threatened. The blessing of the Holy Spirit, the peace of Christ, doesn’t have to be dramatic: it can be as simple as breathing in and breathing out before we strike out with weapons or with words. That kind of character doesn’t happen by accident; it only comes with purpose and lots of practice. As we are spreading PB&J, don’t forget to put it on that peace of bread. Amen