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Stand Again

Robert Kelley
Sun, Apr 07

The Second Sunday of Easter
Text: John 20: 19-23

I have a confession to make: I do not enjoy the part of worship we call the Greeting of Peace very much: in fact, I find it downright stressful. I have so many questions I ask myself while doing it: what do I say? “Peace”? “Peace be with you”? “Shalom”? Is this person a ‘hugger’ or a ‘hand-shaker’? Am I too much of a hugger? On some Sundays I am afraid I am reaching out to too few, and on others too many. It is an anxiety provoking ritual, that is anything but peaceful, and I feel a deep sense of relief when it is over.

In our gospel reading for today, we find ourselves peeking into a moment when the followers of Jesus are feeling anything but peaceful: in fact, they are about as far from peaceful as you can possibly get.
Imagine, what it may have been like: we have at least ten men, (the text makes it plain that the disciple Thomas is not present, in anticipation of the Doubting Thomas scene later in the chapter), hunched inside. And though they are not explicitly mentioned in the text, I am imagining that in all likelihood, our Lenten-season heroines, Mary and Martha are hiding out there as well; perhaps it is even their apartment, or at least in the same tenement, that Jesus dropped by to visit the sisters. But now, in contrast to that earlier, brighter scene: not a single candle is lit, the only sound to be heard inside are the whispered questions when a noise emanates from outside. Cramped in a tiny apartment in a squalid neighborhood of Jerusalem, theirs backs were, quite literally, against the wall.

They had all dreamed big and dared much when they dropped their fishing nets or abandoned their tax-booths to follow Jesus. And who was this Jesus, anyway, that they should follow him so? A miracle worker with an amazing power for healing? A bold yet humble teacher of God’s way? A leader to usher in a new kingdom of God? Whatever they hoped or believed, each in his or her own fashion gave themselves over to an exuberance to embrace something bold, something new: and for their efforts they were met with hostile resistance from local authorities. But the disciples were a scrappy, can-do, band of lovable misfits who stood up to both local and global power: and … they lost. Their role model, their rabbi, their Jesus, was publically condemned, tortured, and executed, all in a manner designed to consign him to ignominy and relegate his burgeoning movement to the discard-pile of history by the prevailing champions of the world. So, what did it matter anymore who this Jesus was? It was over. Jesus was gone and now they laid quivering like scared mice, crouching in fear, waiting for the big cats they had irritated to swat them away, forever.

But that, my friends, is not where the story ends: what happens next must have been astonishing! There are two elements of the narrative that I find particularly astounding.
The Second Sunday of Easter
Text: John 20: 19-23

In John 20:19, the NSRV states that “Jesus came and stood among them”. In last week’s Easter Sunday sermon Pastor Dan Smith highlighted the Greek word for resurrection, ἀνάστασις (anastasis). It is a compound of two words, ἀνά (ana): meaning “up” or “again” and, στασις (stasis), a form of the verb ἵστημι (histémi): meaning “to stand”. The word ἀνάστασις literally means “to stand again”, and it is this sense that captures poetically the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But it can also means “to get up”, as we see in Matthew 9.9:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, Follow me. And he got up and followed him.

Common experience tells us that there is usually a moment after a rising (say, from a chair) where we pause: no matter how fleeting the moment is, there is a point where we come to a full stop before getting on to the next action: for every rising, there is a moment where we come to full height and full stop and: stand. And it is this form of the verb to stand, ἔστη (estē) that is used in John 20.19: Jesus came and stood among them. I posit that it is in this time, the hour of his disciples’ greatest despair, and in this place, (the Greek makes it quite plain that he is standing right in the middle of their group), where Jesus completes the act of his resurrection, and comes to full height, and to full stop: where over fear and even over death, Jesus stood, and thereby made his stand. Hallelujah!

And what does Jesus say to rally his troops? What was his version of Shakespeare’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V? What does he say to this band of brothers (and sisters!) before they turn, in verse 20, into the rejoicing, happy few? What he says is so effective that, a mere six consecutive chapters later in Acts Chapter 5.27-29, Peter and the apostles stand before the same authorities they cowered in the dark, with courage renewed, to proclaim the Good News. And what he said was, essentially: “hello”.

It is from the literal translation of the Greek expression used in the Gospel text, εἰρήνη ὑμῖν (erēnē humin), where we get the expression “peace be with you”. It is the Greek rendering of the Aramaic or Hebrew word: shalom, peace: both words were used as a standard greeting, much like our “hello”. So, when we pass the peace, we are not only practicing our core value of being a people of extravagant welcome, we are also reenacting a powerful moment from the resurrection narrative. When we rise to greet each other, we are, each in our own turn, reenacting the resurrection. When we give a greeting of peace, we are embodying for one another the fear banishing and hope renewing presence of Jesus that first Eastertide.

So, to all of my fellow introverts in the audience I say: you are not alone. To all of you extroverts, especially those who openly greet a stranger, as you once did with me, warmly I say: thank you. And to each and every one of you I say: Peace be with you.

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