Dear Friends in Christ,
I find myself drawn this week to stories of Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room. One image is, of course, that of Maundy Thursday — Jesus’ last meal with them when he took and broke the bread and blessed the cup and gave it his disciples. Like many of you, I have a longing to gather at the Lord’s table and receive the blessed sacrament. There is a hunger inside me to eat the bread and drink the cup.
Coupled with that image is the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and the new commandment he gives, which gives the day its name. “A new mandate I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Across America we see this commandment being lived out in new ways — with acts of social distancing and self-quarantine, the wearing of face masks in public, and countless acts of kindness and graciousness and hospitality. All this reminds us that, for Christians, love is action, love is lived. As the apostle James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”
But it is the scene in the Upper Room on Easter evening recorded in John’s Gospel that draws me most. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." (John 20:19)
As we stay safer at home, I suspect many of us are wrestling with fear and anxiety as we wonder what might happen next and what the future will look like. There is a desire for things to return to the way they were, but also a knowledge that it will never be the same again. There is a deep feeling of loss and grief as planned events are canceled or changed.
I am sure the disciples were feeling much the same way. They had gone from witnessing miracles and shouts of Hosanna to cries of rejection, Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They were looking for a kingdom, for freedom and liberation, and their hopes were dashed in what could only be viewed as a disaster.
And then into their midst comes Jesus standing among them and saying to them, “Peace be with you.” You know the rest of the story. Their lives were changed. They saw the truth about God, love, and the world clearly. They were given new life. Peter, reflecting on what happened many years later, wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy, we have been born anew by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
It was not only the disciples who were changed. The whole world was changed as well. It was changed because the disciples having received Christ’s peace heard and heeded his words, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you. Go and make disciples.”
This Easter Jesus comes to us as we are behind doors. My prayer is that each of you will hear his greeting, “Peace be with you,” and that his peace will abide in you as we move through the days and months ahead. May his peace give you grace and confidence to face whatever challenges may come your way.
The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller