Peace by Piece

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

April 23, 2017

Text: John 20:19   Psalm 16    John 20:1-18


                “Shalom Alekem!”

                These are the first two words Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Upper Room after His crucifixion.  “Shalom alekem!”  “Peace be unto you!”

                People of the Middle East use this greeting when they meet.  No other greeting could have more profound implications, especially in the Middle East where peace is hard to find.

                “Peace be unto you!” summarizes Easter’s purpose.  The Heavenly Father raised Jesus to grant peace to His Son’s disciples.  Realizing the promise of peace is the entire point of Easter.

                Christ comes through His resurrection to give us peace.  He fulfills what He earlier promised to His disciples on the night He was betrayed.  “Peace I leave you.  My peace I give unto you.  Not as the world gives do I give it unto you.

                “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.  I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go to prepare a place for you, I will bring you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.”

                Jesus’ return in the Upper Room on Easter evening fulfilled His earlier promise.  We’re gathered this second Sunday of Easter to celebrate the receipt of that promise.

                But what does it mean?

                What is meant by Christ’s peace?

                The peace Christ gives is far more profound than war’s absence.   Battles continued to be fought in Palestine after Jesus’ resurrection.  Battles continue to be fought today around the world.  Wars too numerous to count lie between the original Easter and today.

                Much as we want to associate Easter peace with the absence of war, that’s not what Jesus meant with His greeting.  Nor is it the promise He made to His disciples.  War’s absence is a worldly dream.  Jesus is describing something greater than war’s absence.

The peace Christ gives is not a temporary cessation of hostilities.  There are times people get tired of fighting, and abandon war’s blood-letting – for a time.  Armistices are signed by former enemies that temporarily end long-standing conflicts.  But the peace Jesus describes in the Upper Room on that evening of the first Easter is not fleeting.  He has an everlasting peace in mind.

                The peace Christ brings from the empty tomb is abiding.  It’s long-lasting.  It can’t be shaken by fear or death.  Christ’s peace is the absence of anxiety that comes to those who understanding meaning of His resurrection for their lives.

                I’ve seen this peace in the eyes and voices of Church members throughout the years.  Many have seen great horrors, and endured unimaginable tribulations.  But they lack the anxiety that comes from never knowing Christ’s peace.  Their countenance is calm and assured.  Their attitude is one of gratitude to God regardless of what they’ve endured. 

                Bill fought in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge.  He faced German panzers and was in hand-to-hand combat.  Yet to know Bill was to know his joy.  He told me he never went through what we now call PTSD.   Despite the horrors he went through in the Bulge, Bill slept at peace and was a gentleman of peace.  His beautiful voice praised God in worship and a smile perpetually radiated from his face.

                The secret of Bill’s peace – the meaning of Easter!  He took with him  to France and Germany the promise of Christ’s peace from his little sanctuary in Pittsburgh’s East Hills.  Bill knew the peace of Jesus’ resurrection greeting, “Peace I leave you.  My peace I give unto you.”

                Christ’s peace offer in the Upper Room can’t be replicated by court order.  Nor can it be accomplished by military might.  It’s the knowledge that God is present in every situation.  He ultimately vindicates His faithful followers – especially if they suffer for a righteous cause.

                Christ’s peace is a form of trust that God works for good in every situation, even when it seems unredeemable.  There are many situations that seem unredeemable.  They tempt us to give up on God and to give up on His power to overcome the obstacle we’re facing. 

                Christ’s peace comes from that deep conviction that not every battle in life is necessary for us to win.  God has won the important one for us.  Not every victory needs to be the ultimate victory over sin and evil.  God has won the ultimate victory over sin and evil.  That battle is already won for us. His righteousness already prevails.  We simply need to trust that what happened at Easter is all we need to find our peace.

                The emotion of fear is the result of thinking sin or evil can’t be defeated.  We’re so frustrated by trying to overcome evil and failing, that no matter how much we try to defeat it, it stubbornly seems to win.

Then, we’re overwhelmed by fear.  The same thing happened to the disciples Easter Day.  When Jesus faced the disciples in the Upper Room, they had done exactly what people normally do when they believe sin or evil can’t be defeated. 

They had seen Jesus face His enemies with love and forgiveness.  But their Master still suffered injustice. 

They prayed Jesus would vanquish those who wanted Him crucified. But death conquered their Master.  All they could see was injustice had been victorious for Jesus’ enemies.  Jesus had failed.  

In the face of the failure of all they prayed for God to do to save Jesus, the disciples fled in fear.  They failed to trust God’s righteousness would redeem the world.    

Jesus had taught them to pray without ceasing.  But as far as they could see, Jesus’ teaching wasn’t true.  Everything about God Jesus stood for didn’t stop sin and evil.  Everything about God Jesus told them to trust was not worthy to be trusted.

                The disciples huddled in fear in the Upper Room. They were convinced God couldn’t or wouldn’t overcome the unjust powers and principalities that brought Jesus’ down.  It was then, at the moment of their greatest sense of being victims to the power of death, when they had lost all hope in God and were paralyzed by fear, Jesus appeared among them.  He blessed them with His peace.

                He who had suffered so terribly.

He who had died so horribly.

He who had been humiliated so completely.

Jesus stood before them – alive!

                In the course of human history, no group of believers in a mighty cause had lost more than Jesus’ followers.  They had absolutely no reason to believe in God’s power – until the moment Jesus entered the Upper Room and offered them peace.

                Eternal peace!  Unending, complete, total peace!

                The peace Jesus’ presence gave them was the absence of fear.  It transformed this huddled mass of cowering victims into a mighty witness of God’s power to save.  The peace Jesus’ presence gave them sent them into the world as soldiers of His mighty peace!  They used the blessing Christ bestowed on them to show others evidence of Christ’s peace. 

They did miraculous things in the name of Jesus Christ that convinced others who were defeated victims of injustice and evil to know God reigns supreme!  Their faith in Jesus Christ, their work in the name of Jesus Christ, their mission for the glory of Jesus Christ, inspired the world!

All of it was the product of the peace Jesus Christ came to give them.

                Each of us comes to this second Sunday in Easter needing an infusion of Christ’s peace.  There are many battles some of us have been enduring within our families and communities, within workplaces and schools.  We’re engaged in a spiritual war for the salvation of those who would use instruments of death to intimidate and discourage our faith in Jesus Christ.

                There are some of us who may be on the verge of giving up our Christian faith.  We’re on the verge of saying enough is enough.  I don’t have any more energy to give for Jesus because I’m losing hope.  I’m afraid.  I quit. 

                Yet it’s at the time when you’re most tempted to quit that Jesus suddenly comes beside us.  He reveals to us His presence.  He shows us He won’t abandon us.  Then we know that God is with us – forever!

                 I had another friend had been dealing with evil for years.  From the time he was 12, he faced his demons.  They controlled his life, his present, his future.  He was terrified of them, yet unable to resist their ways.

He was arrested for armed robbery and sent to prison.  HE was terrified of being with inmates who would harm him.  Upon entering prison, he was terrorized by a prison guard.  That night he was ready to give up on God.  But he turned one last time to Jesus in prayer.  Overwhelmed by fear, he asked for Jesus to help him.  It was early January in one of the coldest years in Pittsburgh history.  He could see his breath in the cell.

                Suddenly he was aware of a warm breeze in the cell.  He sensed Jesus was there.  He heard Jesus’ words, “Peace I leave with you.”

                My friend descended into a deep sleep, thankful for the Lord hearing his prayer.   The next morning when he awoke, he was no longer afraid.  From that night, he knew Jesus would be with him through whatever his prison life would be. 

Two years later, he was released, began a family, and dedicated his life’s work to God.  He is a living witness to the power of the resurrection to give us peace.

With Jesus abiding presence inspiring us, we know God overcomes evil.   God’s will is to overcome our fears that rob us of our faith in Him. He will overcome sin and evil.  God’s has already acted to restore and renew our faith in Him, who is our peace.

Jesus’ peace is our foundation for being His ambassadors of hope!  Go forth in His peace, be of good courage, love and serve God to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord!