Peace be with you.
I have spent my sabbath week reading liberation theology and watching movies about people striving to discover the truth. While I enjoyed getting the extra sleep and having time with Matt and the kitties, my heart and mind have been stirred up. So I am grateful for these biblical accounts of the disciples of Jesus wrestling with and claiming their truth in the face of fear and oppression in the early days of the Jesus movement.
Among the movies I watched (and I encourage you to check these out too if you haven’t yet) were Spotlight, Suffergette and Ceasar Chavez. I’m constantly surprised at what they leave out of the history books. I never really understood the sacrifices that so many women made in order to have the right to vote...the fear of losing their children, the violence they experienced in jail, the harassment by neighbors and people they thought were their friends.
And while I certainly remember the Rolling Stone magazine article that followed up on the scandal of the priest sex abuse cases, hearing the stories of people who were victims, and those working against a colossal system to reveal the truth...I never fully understood their pain either.
In high school I never heard the name Ceasar Chavez in history classes. Yet when I moved to California, the spirit of his work, the spirit of his desire for equality and dignity, the spirit of the United Farm Workers Movement was very much alive. He wasn’t asking for much for the workers--he wanted them to have the opportunity to have clean drinking water, bathrooms, and fair wages. And yet, he was demonized, beaten and jailed because of his desire for justice.
All of these men and women were searching for the peace that Jesus talked about in that upper room when he appeared to the disciples in our gospel story for today.
When we think of the word “peace” lots of different ideas might come up. Perhaps a peace sign on a flag or poster with bright psychedelic colors being held by a hippie. Perhaps we think of a tranquil spot where we can take a deep breath and just relax. Perhaps it’s something else that comes to mind.
None of that is wrong, but the peace that Jesus gives to the disciples after his resurrection, the Holy Spirit that he breathes on to them...that peace is active and alive. It’s a peace that calls us to move. He says to them, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He’s sending them out to heal, forgive, and restore others. In seeing the wounds of the risen Christ, the disciples were restored. Their faith took on a new shape and their mission was reignited.
Sometimes I think we read the lessons in the wrong order. Today is one of those days. Today we should have read the Psalm, the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and then Revelation. But I’m not in charge of these things.
But if we had read the lessons in this order, we would have gotten a slightly different message:
First, the message of “Praise God--God is at the center of my being--God is in my words and actions--Praise God”
Then, here’s what resurrection living is about--it’s about stepping into the world from a place of faith, not fear--go in peace to do God’s work
And then, here’s part of the challenge of living in the light of the resurrection; Kingdom building is hard, but stand firm in your faith.
And finally, Praise God--God is the beginning and the end--we are an Easter people, Praise God.
See...I think my way is better. It gives us tidy little bookends. Oh well.
But let’s go back to the reading from Acts 5. So something has happened between the appearing of Jesus in the upper room to Peter leading the disciples in their ministry. While that jump may seem disconcerting, it’s ok...we’ll get there. What’s important to know is that the disciples have been forming the first community of the Jesus Movement. There have been teachings, preachings, healings...things are happening.
And so here in chapter 5, Peter and the others--those same disciples that had previously been hiding out in that upper room--are brought before the council because they have been out among the people proclaiming this peace that Jesus spoke about. They have been arrested for teaching, preaching, healing and forgiving. They have been standing up to the oppressive forces in their community. In their mission, motivated by their faith in Jesus, having received the breath of the Holy Spirit, and being in relationship with God, the disciples stand in solidarity with others looking for this same peace.
In her article, “Solidarity” Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz states: “the goal of solidarity is to participate in the ongoing process of liberation through which we Christians become a significantly positive force in the unfolding of the “kin-dom” of God.” Those disciples who were arrested for preaching, teaching and healing in the name of Jesus were working towards the peace of the kingdom of God. A kingdom that is based on love and respect. A kingdom that is based on dignity and restoration. A kingdom that is based on forgiveness and healing. And they were arrested for it! This is scandalous! If the arrest, trial and death of Jesus wasn’t scandalous enough, here are the disciples being faced with the same outcome. And we see it over and over throughout history...even until the present day.
Look at our saints and martyrs. They believed in this same liberating, healing, loving peace of God! Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Perpetua and Felicitas, Bernard Mizeki, the Martyrs of Uganda, of Sudan, and El Salvador along with Oscar Romero, the people of Mother Immanuel AME. And countless others.. As Annie Dillard has been known to say (and I’m paraphrasing here), if people really understood what it means to be a Christian, we’d be wearing crash helmets to church; “ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares.” In other words, standing up for the peace of the Kingdom of God, doing the ministry of the church, can be scary and dangerous, and totally life giving in very unexpected ways!
Sometimes, our lives are filled with doubt and fear, and so we become stuck in our own “upper rooms”. But if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibility of Christ among us, if we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we too can become restored. We too can work for the peace of the kingdom of God. And so my hope for us this Easter season is this:
May the love, compassion, joy and healing of the kingdom of God grow in the hearts and minds of all; May peace and wisdom visit the upper rooms that we hide in, and may we know and practice the liberation of Jesus Christ in our world. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.