They were afraid. Those disciples who had followed Jesus, had listened to his gospel of mercy and love, who had accepted him as the Son of God? They cowered in fear. Behind closed doors. Mary Magdalene had earlier reported to them that she had seen the risen Christ and that he had spoken to her.
Still, they trembled in apprehension because they had declared their loyalty to Jesus, who was crucified by other Jews who did not believe. Alarm filled their hearts as they imagined what those Jews would do to them.
“… Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you …’” (John 20:19b-21a, NASB).
Peace is often an elusive state, battered as it is by fear, worry, distrust, betrayal, doubt, damage, bereavement, hopelessness, discord, self-concern, monotony or the cacophony that drowns out a clear and focused heart. Perhaps we can say this about the disciples gathered after Jesus’ crucifixion - that they were consumed with the sum total of these enemies of peace.
Jesus knew their hearts. He spoke first, then demonstrated who he was by showing them the scars on his hands and side. Unlike the other two men crucified with Jesus, his feet were not broken; when the guards checked on him, he was already dead. They saw no need to break his feet, as was custom.
For the past eight months, peace has been an elusive state for me as I have grieved the separation by death of my beloved husband, Thurston. It is irrelevant that I had almost two years to prepare. One is never ready for that moment you speak of with naiveté in the wedding vows: “… until death us do part.” For me, it was a crushing moment of heartache that intensified as the days, weeks and months began to pass without his presence.
It is sad that anyone has to experience chastisement during a time of grief, yet it has happened to me. No one in mourning needs a lecture or a sermon; every one in mourning needs assurance of love and concern, offers of aid and comfort, a listening ear and an affirmation that God understands everything a mourner is experiencing.
Jesus very easily could have stood in the midst of the disciples and stated, “Hey. Don’t you remember what I told you? I told you I would die and rise again, and here you are hiding out in fear. Shame on you. You should have more faith than that.”
Jesus, with understanding that these mortal men and women were still perplexed by his death, did not judge them but spoke peace to them, words and actions of assurance. He knew they would question everything, even him and all that he had taught them in their years together. How empathetic and compassionate he was as he approached them in his risen glory.
Regardless of any person’s judgment of another’s grief, Jesus understands every aspect of the process of mourning. It is to him that I have turned when man has disappointed me, casting an eye of doubt on my faith. I have asked for peace in my heart. At times, it is recognizable, but in an instant, it can vanish as its enemies begin to overwhelm me anew.
“Peace be with you,” he says to me. And then he reminds me again, “Peace be with you, Harris.” This I will remember as I continue this “until death us do part” journey – Jesus’ understanding, compassion, mercy and love.
At Easter and always, I share his words with you: “Peace be with you.”