The Easter we celebrate today is a joyous time, a time of great rejoicing, a time of great celebration. But the Gospel that we heard last week and the Gospel we heard today reminds us that the very first Easter was anything but. While it was still dark, the Gospel said, Mary Magdalene went down to the tomb. The phrase while it was still dark, reflected not only the hour of the day before the sun had risen, but it also reflected the state of her soul, a darkness of grief and sorrow, pain, sadness, and confusion. While it was still dark.
And in today’s Gospel we hear of another dark hour, the evening of the same day. The disciples have again gathered, in the darkness of the evening hour, and with a darkness in their souls. We hear in the Gospel the darkness they are experiencing is the darkness of fear. Fear that the very same religious and political authorities that had condemned and executed Jesus might come next for them. It is the very same fear that caused almost every single one of them to abandon Jesus in his darkest hour. It is the same fear that allowed Peter to deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed on the morning of his execution.
So here we have the disciples, in this dark hour, in their fear, locked in a room. In the midst of that fear, in the midst of their anxieties and worries, Jesus shows up and says, Peace be with you. In the midst of that locked room, locked because of their fear, Jesus comes and offers them the peace that passes all understanding. Then Jesus tries to send them out. Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. To send them out from that locked, fear-filled room back out into the world.
It is not different for us today. We are in the midst of fear, anxieties, and worries, which may be legion. There are many things of which to be afraid in this life. Internal and external fears abound. And in the midst of all that fear is the place where Jesus comes and says Peace be with you. Whatever fear-filled locked rooms we have put ourselves in, or been put in, Jesus shows up, offering us peace.
That, of course, is not the end of the story, and I think this is one of the great signs of the truth of the Gospels. If it was just a fairy tale, that would have been the end. All was well: they had been fearful, but now they are at peace; all was solved and they can go out from there in joy. And yet we hear that the next week, the very same thing happens, again in the evening, in their darkness, again with locked doors. (The English translation says one time the door was locked, the next time it was shut, but the Greek word is the same in both stories.) That peace that Jesus had offered the disciples that first week did not take away their fears. They are again gathered in fear, and again Jesus shows up and says, Peace be with you. The fears are not abolished because this is the reality: fear abounds in this life, and in the midst of them Jesus shows up, hoping that we will be able to let go of our fears as we let this peace wash over us, hoping to send us out from this place, free from our fears, back out into the world to live without that fear. But Jesus knows the truth of the world and that we continue to live in fear. Yet Jesus keeps showing up in the midst of it all, continuing to offer us that peace that passes all understanding.
The next story in the Gospel will again take place in the dark, in the early morning before the sun rises, and the disciples still do not understand. And Jesus again shows up to them in that darkness. This third appearance is not meant to demonstrate their ignorance or lack of understanding; the disciples are not foils here, rather it reminds us of the reality of this world. We continue to live in darkness and fear, and in the midst of that, Jesus will show up. It doesn’t demonstrate the problem of the disciples. It demonstrates the grace of God, who will continue to come to them, will continue to come to us in the midst of our anxieties, our worries, and our fears and bring us that peace, trying to send us back out. And when we fail at that, Jesus will come yet again, will again offer that peace, and again try to send us out into the world. Whether this repeats for one’s entire life, or whether there does come a moment in which that fear is shed and we can joyfully and boldly proclaim the Good News of the resurrection, the grace of God means that God will keep showing up to us through Jesus Christ. It is the grace of God.
What is grace? Frederick Buechner, the acclaimed author put it best. He said, The grace of God means something like this: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party would not have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It is for you I created the universe. I love you. That is the grace of God. In the midst of the terrible things that cause us fear and anxiety, just like the first disciples had on the first Easter, God keeps showing up. God will not be separate from us, and keeps offering us the peace and mercy and love of Christ. Christ keeps coming to us in the midst of our fears and says Peace be with you.