By Bishop George Elliott
In mid-April I attended the spring meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops in Niagara Falls. Every morning through the week, we gathered in small groups for Bible study and reflection. We worked our way through the passages for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter as part of our preparation for preaching through Holy Week. The material always included a page of brief reflections on the daily readings to help stimulate our conversation. I want to share with you one of the pieces on the Easter readings. It was written by Laurel Dykstra, a social justice advocate and educator in Vancouver.
“Whenever I can in a worship service, but especially in street churches, before we share the peace, I say, ‘When Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were hiding upstairs in a locked room – the friends who knew him best, who had betrayed him, who had pretended they didn’t know him, who had run away when he was dying, who hid when he was arrested, who were frightened and ashamed. He appeared among them and greeted them. He didn’t say, ‘What happened? Where were you? You screwed up!’ He greeted them saying, ‘Peace.’ No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or think you have done, no matter who you have betrayed or let down, no matter how far you have gone from God, from Jesus, Jesus doesn’t say to you, ‘Where were you? You screwed up!’ Jesus greets you saying, ‘Peace.’ You are not accused; you are invited.
“The first time I used these words, a tiny woman who is addicted to heroin and an occasional prostitute whispered, ‘That was the first time in so many years that I felt like I was good enough to be part of this.’ Over and over again, people shyly approach and let me know that I must keep saying this. Whatever it is that churches are saying, what poor people and people who are marginalized hear from us is: You are not good enough, you are not welcome, the foodbank entrance is around back. (“Say) ‘Peace be with you. You are not accused, you are invited.’”
I was deeply struck by these words. They held before me the unpeacefulness of my life, my brokenness, my failures and reminded me that Jesus continues to stand in my midst with God’s gift of peace. They also invited me to think about the way I treat others. Even if I don’t mean to, do I accuse others, marginalize them, treat one person differently from another? I suspect that we all like to think we are open and welcoming and that the same is true for our church communities. Laurel Dykstra is suggesting strongly that this is not always how others perceive us. Her words have got me thinking in a different way, as I hope they will for you.
We have all now journeyed through Holy Week, which led us into much that is anything but peaceful. Our shouts of “Alleluia!” rang out on Easter morn as the cries of, “He is arisen,” spread through the community of Jesus’ first followers. Thomas has been greeted by Jesus with the words, “Peace be with you.” We’ve walked the road to Emmaus, basked in the love of the Good Shepherd, and watched as Jesus ascended into the clouds. We joke about the C & Es, those who only come at Christmas and Easter. Were they welcomed unconditionally at your church with Jesus’ word of “Peace” or were they derided for only showing up for Easter?
The church is about to celebrate Pentecost, the day on which God poured out the Holy Spirit upon those first disciples. With wounded hands and feet, the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus reaches out to us and offers peace, a peace we will never fully understand, but a peace that fills your life and mine. More importantly, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus sends you and me out into the world to share that peace.
I pray that as we journey into the Pentecost/Trinity season we, as God’s people, will be mindful of Laurel Dykstra’s words: “Peace be with you. You are not accused, you are invited.”