It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles, and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead.
He was incredible. He should have been king.
Yet, here the disciples were. Their leader had been crucified- dying a shameful death reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no king.
The followers of the king now spent their fear drenched moments huddled together in a room filled with fear concerning the eventual onslaught of those who hunted them; the ones who sought to end this movement of the man from Galilee.
Fear was thick and tangible. Surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look.
We know this fear.
Every single day we’re told to be afraid. From crime rates, to unemployment, terrorism to isolation, we are a people living in fear.
We’re told to fear Isis. We’re reminded that we’re on the brink of nuclear war with an untold number of countries.
We’re told to be afraid of immigrants.
We’re afraid of sickness.
We’re afraid of loss.
We’re told to be afraid of the wealthy. We’re afraid of what we lack.
We’re afraid of our failures.
We’re afraid of our past. We’re afraid of each other.
The rise of Donald Trump in American politics speaks to the depth and influential nature of our national and international fear. We’re a people afraid, and that fear has trapped us. Like the disciples in those early moments after Jesus’ death, we’ve locked ourselves in an upper room, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Aung San Suu Kyi, political activist, prisoner, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize said it plainly and truly when she said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
Like those early disciples, we are well aware of fear and the prisons we lock ourselves in.
However, in this passage, we read something beautiful (John 20:19-20).
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Locking in a prison of their own making, the disciples have completely lost themselves and forgotten their mission. They are not living in their identity. As we all know too well, fear does this. It turns us inward, and as we succumb to this fear, the call to an outward life of Christ-likeness turns inward.
It no longer is self-sacrificial, instead it becomes self-preserving.
It’s into this self-preservation and self-imposed prison that Jesus steps into, and into the darkness, into the fear, he proclaims his peace.
Peace. The greek word Jesus speaks here, twice, is “εἰρήνη” (eirēnē). It’s the greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Words meaning peace, wholeness. Fullness. Harmony.
Wholeness. Fullness. Living in the way and living out of the life and identity we were created for. How were we created to live?
Tim Keller says it beautifully. He says, “”God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent.”
What Keller is getting at here is the truth that it’s the desire of God to restore justice, harmony and peace in our world. He desires to bring about peace- Eirene- and he doesn’t intend to do it alone. He has invited us to do it in partnership with him.
We were created to be together, living in community with one another, sharing life together, forgiving one another, and inviting each other into the Kingdom of God. Fear short-circuits this calling. We stop seeking justice, fighting for reconciliation, and advancing the Kingdom of God.
I love, though, what Jesus does next.
He breathes on the disciples, an image rich with symbolism of what’s to come, and tells them tells them, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
He’s saying, yes, I understand you’re afraid, but be at peace. For you aren’t helpless. You aren’t hopeless. You aren’t alone. Go, live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Live in faith and trust and hope, and not fear. Know that you’re not going at this alone, and as you do it, know that even the power of sin and death cannot hold you.