29 April, 2014

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter (A) - Peace be with you.

John 20:19-31

…the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:19)
Today’s gospel reading follows after the passage we have heard last Sunday, where the risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalen outside his tomb. For the intent of the narrative, today’s reading is set in the evening of the same day. A few hours after Mary announced to the disciples, I have seen the Lord! (20:18), the disciples are able to say, We have seen the Lord!

As evening comes the disciples are gathered in one place, but they are not in prayer as on the vigil of Pentecost. The evangelist tells us that tonight they are afraid. They have locked themselves in the house. The confused news about the resurrection, or the disappearance of Jesus’ body, must have spread across Jerusalem pretty quickly, and the disciples are struck down by fear. There is a volatile, tense atmosphere in the house. A sudden noise at the door may cause widespread panic. The disciples sit in dim light of the evening afraid that Jesus’ opponents might seize them and put them to death just like they did with their teacher. Terror fills them, their vocation is gone.

But at this point Jesus comes into the room unannounced, unsolicited, and the first thing He does is to cast out fear. Like a dazzling spark in the darkness He stands among his disciples and with four simple words He relieves them from the paralysing burden of terror that was weighing on them. 

‘Peace be with you.’
He doesn’t just say it once, but twice, in an effort to reassure their troubled hearts. We may have become so used to this passage that we do not realise what Jesus is doing. He comforts the disciples, but only in order to build them up for the days ahead. He anticipates the gift of the Holy Spirit by breathing upon them, dispelling fear from the place, and preparing them for Pentecost. He gives them a new vocation, a mandate of going about in the world just as he did before the resurrection. Relieved from fear the disciples are ready to respond generously to whatever the Lord is asking them to do. 
‘Peace be with you.’ With these four words from Jesus everything changes.

Earlier in the past week I watched an interview with Sheryl Sandberg, one of the world’s most influential business women. Her current campaign encourages women to speak out about integration in the workplace and equality. Women are invited to consider a simple question, What would I do if I weren't afraid? Each answer can be written on a card and then posted as a photograph on the campaign website. Women are invited to act upon the answer they have given; they are invited to act as if they were not afraid. This profound question aims at putting out in the open individual doubts so that they may be overcome. This question however, is also the question the risen Lord could ask to the disciples as He meets them behind locked doors casting away their fears, What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Like the disciples we often find ourselves paralysed by fear, dreading the unknown. We lock ourselves in, we lock everyone else out, and we let life pass us by for fear of speaking up, fear of being judged, fear of being mocked. But Jesus comes into the midst of our darkness, of our apprehension. He comes in even though we have locked ourselves in as securely as we possibly can. He comes in and He says, ‘Peace be with you.’ After this, fear is vanquished – we are not afraid anymore – and a new vocation is given to us. 

So, what would you do if you weren't afraid? Don’t worry about fear, Jesus will deal with it as he dealt with it for the disciples on that first Easter evening.What would you do if you weren't afraid? This is the question the risen Lord asks to his Church and to each of us today.

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