Peace Be With You

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“Peace be with You.”

Rev. Stephen Milton
Lawrence Park Community Church
April 14, 2024

Luke 24:36b–48

Today’s scripture reading is another episode of Christ’s resurrection story. Each Gospel handles Jesus’ return from the dead in a different way. Mark’s Gospel gives no details at all – the women find the empty tomb, see the angels, and run away terrified. Luke and Matthew provide more details, as does John. In Luke’s gospel, we hear the famous story of the Road to Emmaus, where Christ appears incognito to two followers of Jesus who are walking home from Jerusalem. He talks to them on the way home, not revealing who he is until they sit down to eat with him in their home. Only then do they clue in, and at that moment, Jesus simply disappears. They run back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples they have seen the risen Jesus. 

And that’s where today’s scripture begins.  Jesus suddenly appears, out of nowhere, saying, “Peace be with you.” As we all know, people cannot simply appear out of thin air, but that appears to be what happens here. Stranger still, Jesus is not a ghost who can walk through walls. He has a solid body, and he’s even hungry. His hands and feet still bear the marks of crucifixion. This is him, as he was in life. A body, Jesus, in the flesh, but after death. This confuses and amazes the disciples, as it does to us still.

But they shouldn’t be so surprised Jesus says. He told them over and over again that He would be killed and come back after three days. And they are still having a hard time believing it. This whole passage has a kind of “I told you so” feel to it. The disciples may be well meaning, but they have obviously been wrong about Jesus, in many ways. Peter betrayed him by denying he even knew Jesus after his arrest. The other male disciples ran away during the crucifixion. 

Jesus is speaking to a group of men who are wrong everyday about all sorts of things. Most of them are young fishermen. They are pretty knowledgeable about fish but share everyone else’s commonsense idea about how life works. That means they think that the sun revolves around the Earth. Many of the rabbis of their time believed the earth was flat.[1] The stars are lights stuck to a roof above their heads. Their world is small, flat, and the center of the universe. They are wrong about pretty much everything, not just about Jesus.

It makes sense Jesus would speak to them in terms of miracles and angels and supernatural things because they lived in a world so infused with misconceptions and superstition. Perhaps what Jesus was really trying to say would be much clearer if he could speak to people like us, who, thanks to science, understand the world so much better. Perhaps he would have a better chance at relaying his wisdom to us, than he did to those peasant fishermen.

If Jesus were to come back and share his message with us, when would be a good time to return? The 19th century? Maybe not, they were just learning about germs then, and had no idea about how atoms worked. Perhaps the 1960s – science was much more advanced then.

A few years ago, the television show Mad Men was a big hit. It told the story of what life was like in the 1960s for a group of advertising executives and their wives in New York.

Mad Men 

In the first season, there is a scene where two housewives are having coffee at home while their kids play in the house. 

Mad Men 
One of the women is pregnant, both are smoking. The kids are playing spaceman, with one child covered in a plastic bag from the dry cleaning.

Mad Men 
The mother calls the child over, who could easily suffocate, and tells her that the clothes from that bag better not be on the floor.  A third small child is outside playing alone on a jungle gym. [2]

The women send the children away and continue talking about how a divorced mother who has moved into the neighbourhood will bring the real estate prices down.

The whole scene is played straight, but it’s a joke. They have no idea that smoking while pregnant is a terrible idea. In fact, spoiler alert, one of the women will die of lung cancer at the end of the series. They also have no idea that kids who play in dry cleaning bags could easily suffocate, and they aren’t concerned at all that a small child in the backyard is on a jungle gym with no supervision. The men in the series are also guilty of all sorts of bad and dangerous habits – they smoke all day long, the bosses have entire drink carts full of alcohol in their offices, and everyone drinks and drives.  In their time, they thought they were the cream of the crop. But to us, they look dangerously naïve. 

Sixty years later, we live at a time when scientists understand the universe better than ever before. This week, we knew exactly when the solar eclipse would happen, and why it was taking place. Unlike earlier civilizations, we didn’t think a dragon was eating the sun, or that we had sinned and deserved to be punished. Science made excellent predictions, and they came true.

But as science has peered into the universe with our telescopes, we have come upon a profound surprise. The billions of galaxies out there should not exist. They should have flown apart long ago. The only explanation for their existence is that there is another kind of matter out there that is different from the matter we know in atoms. This is called “dark” matter, and it makes up about 85 percent of the universe’s matter. [3] It surrounds every galaxy, keeping them together as they spin. This dark matter is invisible and can pass through regular matter without reacting. Right now, a steady rain of dark matter travelling at 400 kilometers a second is passing through you. You can’t feel it or see it, but it makes up most of the matter of the universe, and scientists have no idea what it is, and have never measured it. In a test in school, if you don’t know 85% of the answers, you fail. Currently, we live at a time when we are failing the test about what most of the universe is made of. [4]

We like to think that we have made great strides in other areas of science, like medicine, and we have. We have become much better at treating cancer, so it is no longer a death sentence every time it is diagnosed. This is a great boon. But the rate at which people getting cancer hasn’t changed much. If you were born in 1960, the chances of getting cancer were about 50%, and they still are.[5] We know that many of these cancers are linked to our lifestyle – what we eat, alcohol consumption, tanning. 

In the years to come, our descendants may wonder why we raised so much money to treat cancer, but so little to prevent it.[6] They may also wonder why we got so good at predicting climate change but did so little to prevent it. Scrapping measures like the carbon tax will probably leave them shaking their heads, if not cursing us for our short-sightedness. We have tens of thousands of empty condos in the city, with people sleeping on the streets. Jails are full of Black and Indigenous people, even though they make up a small proportion of the population. There’s lots that we are getting wrong with our eyes wide open. 

We like to think that we are the smartest generation, but that’s what every generation thinks. We already know that we are wrong about some things, like dark matter and climate change. But there are all sorts of things we don’t even realize we’re wrong about. We are all like that Mad Men family, wearing plastic sheets over our heads and smoking through our pregnancies. We are getting all sorts of things wrong, without even knowing it. And that’s the way it has always been.

I don’t say this to insult us, or make us feel bad, but to give some perspective. God doesn’t love us because we’re right about things. God doesn’t love us more than those poor superstitious fishermen 2000 years ago because we know so much more. No, God can see where we’re wrong, just as God could see how those fishermen were wrong about Jesus, and about thinking the sun circles the Earth. Jesus had told them the disciples He would come back, and they still didn’t believe him. And still, he appeared among them and said, “peace be with you.”

What today’s scripture tells us is that God’s love isn’t reserved for the people who are right about everything. Not even now, 2000 years later, are we right about everything. God is not waiting for us to get wise, or to be deserving – not then, and not now. 

No, God loves us because love is what life is about. God loves us with a love which is beyond what we can imagine, that looks past so many faults, and still sees beauty in us. It’s not what we think is worthy in us that God loves. God loves all of you, like a parent loves a toddler who keeps falling down, crying, and who misunderstands most of what happens to them. We didn’t invent love, God did, and God’s love is greater and wider than what we have accomplished.

Today’s scripture tells us that God wants to open our minds and hearts to a greater way of loving and being. God appears among these simple fishermen and helps them increase their understanding. He blows their minds by being there at all. Then the text says he opened their minds so they could understand the Hebrew Scriptures. God didn’t care about how wrong they were, what mattered was whether they were ready to follow God to the next stage. Not to cling to what they believed, but to be prepared to see the world a little more as God sees it. It’s not who we are, how smart or pious we are that matters. It’s not who we are now, but who we are willing to be with God’s help that counts most. Christ is saying to those disciples and to us – are you willing to follow me, to open up even more?

God offers an opportunity to become more sensitive to love and compassion – for ourselves, and for others. For the story of scripture is of God leading us on, through deserts and disasters, through good times and bad, towards a more just and peaceful future. Can we open ourselves to God’s love so we can be more compassionate, a bit more open minded and determined to love people we might have turned away from before? God points the way and gives us the tools we need to get there. 

And it appears all we have to do to receive this advice is to show up. 

Christ’s resurrection makes no sense, and breaks all the rules, because so much of what we know to be right is wrong, or imperfect. Nothing changes unless we can make the transition from one day things being impossible, to the next, that same thing is possible. One day things are dead, determined, fixed, the next, we see them as alive and possible. That shift from impossible to possible, dead to alive, that’s what God’s love can awaken in us. It’s how ceasefires happen. It’s how queer and straight people become good neighbours. It’s how the world inches forward, one loving step at a time, one dinner at a time. And we don’t have to be right. We just have to be open to God’s love, which is available to everyone, even when we’re wrong about most things. Peace be with you. Amen. 


(2] Mad Men, episode one.