There is a post-resurrection story that I find helpful this Easter as I contemplate the changing world around me.
It is found in the Gospel of John, where we read that Jesus encounters his closest friends in their hiding place where they are holed up and fearing for their lives. We are told they are in hiding because they are afraid of the religious authorities. I wonder if they were also ashamed that they had abandoned Jesus and were afraid to admit that they had followed another messiah wannabe.
I find it interesting that it is in this setting that the Risen One greets them with “Peace be with you,” and not just once but twice, and then again when his friend Thomas joins them. Jesus’ greeting is a beautiful beginning to building and repairing relationships that transcend fear, betrayal and anger.
“Peace be with you.” These are not often the first words uttered when meeting someone who has wronged or betrayed us. A more natural response would be punishment in the form of aggression or judgment. Because I am a Mennonite steeped in pacifism, my aggression usually takes a passive form, which is no less damaging to relationships. Many of us who have felt betrayed like to own the right to inflict hurt on those who have wronged us. Even if we don’t act on that impulse, it makes us feel good to know we have that right.
But the disciples may have been feeling anger toward Jesus. Just days earlier they had witnessed Jesus’ power over death with the resurrection of Lazarus. They likely trusted him to carry that power into their lives and the lives of their community. Then they watched Jesus squander that opportunity and let himself be crucified in a terrifying way. Perhaps they felt betrayed as well. When you consider the complicated relationship between Jesus and his disciples, you begin to realize that there was enough disappointment to be shared by everyone.
The world around us is changing dramatically, just as it was for the disciples. The novel coronavirus has halted the frenetic pace of our world and has very quickly seeped into our psyche. This sickness has touched millions of lives and has caused fear, anxiety and anger in billions more. In this state we can so quickly assign responsibility for failure to keep us safe from all harm. We blame governments, foreigners, the rich who can afford to travel, or the poor who can’t afford to stay at home or wash as frequently as recommended. Again, there is plenty of disappointment to go around.
As I anticipate significant changes in our economy, health system, educational institutions, governments and churches, I read this story as a template for an adequate Christian response to massive shifts. Jesus’ prayer still works God’s grace into difficult and changing times: “Peace be with you.”
Ken Warkentin is the executive minister of Mennonite Church Manitoba. His hair is getting long because of social isolation so he is sending an old photo to keep his mother happy.