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Jesus said, 'Do not be afraid, Peace be with you'

John 20:19-end

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19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

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Fear produces in each one of us terrible consequences. We do not act rationally; we make the wrong decisions as a result of being afraid. Fear is at the root of all insecurity and fear has been the central ingredient in much religion. "Our lot say the other lot believe because of fear". While the other lot say they are afraid of us! Fear breeds mistrust, fear creates Afghanistan, Syria, and the recent tragedy in Kenya and is the tool of bullies and terrorists.

Fear is the opposite of love. And if it is true that God is love, fear is the opposite of God!

The first thing Jesus says to his friends after he has risen from the dead is "Do not be afraid, Peace be with you". So important is the condition of fear that Jesus deals with it before he talks with his friends. Even in his risen body Jesus deals with human fear. Overcoming fear should be a priority for us the resurrection people, we should deal with it now.

In today's gospel from St John we are in Jerusalem on the evening of the first Easter Day. We are behind locked doors and Mary of Magdala and the other Mary have brought the shocking news that Jesus is gone, but he is also present! The two Marys bring with them the memory of earlier that morning. They went to the garden, with the memory of death. And death carries with it deep fear. The unknown of death! For some strange reason Thomas is absent on Easter Evening!

In that garden they are left with their memories of death, alone and depressed, they wait at the tomb. Then the ground shakes and memories stir again, "there will be portents and signs" Something momentous is happening. The gospel describes it thus, "Lightening, earthquakes, angels, darkness, tremors and shaking." That's the gospel language of the first Easter morning.

The figure in white, the angel says "You must not be afraid, I know what you want, all is well, relax and observe he is not here, he is alive, go and tell your friends all is well." And the gospels have a wonderful narrative here, "So they left the tomb in a hurry and ran to tell his disciples", truly human pessimists, yet with hope, off they go to spread the news.

The two Marys move off to do as they are bidden by the messenger when suddenly another figure surprises them; they think it is the gardener. Jesus says,"Do not be afraid." Go home and tell my friends that I will meet them and trust me"  

A garden, a memory, an angel, a message, a journey - and then Jesus alive and well. "Do not be afraid," one phrase echoing through the story. That is how the gospel ends, and that is how the church begins, in new life and without fear. And so the two essential ingredients of faith are new life and living without fear. There is nothing to be afraid of except fear itself.

For the friends of Jesus on the first Easter day a lot had to happen. The pain, the memories the deep inherent fear of themselves and of the unknown had to be overcome, because fear left in place would prevent belief in the power of the risen Christ'.

It began to change when the two Marys met an angel who said "overcome fear", as they speeded off with the message of hope they bumped into Jesus Christ. Not the dead battered bruised Good Friday Jesus but a new surprising Jesus sparkling with hope, and what does he say? Peace, do not be afraid." He deals with fear first and only then can he communicate what has actually happened. "Tell my friends I will meet them at our home in Galilee away from the pain and the fear. Where there's life there's hope. Where there's hope there's faith.

To overcome the disciple's obsession with misery, Jesus sprang in to life and instead of scaring them out of their wits with fear; he trusted the two women to gently prepare the disciples for new life and hope.

The two Marys were the ambassadors of hope; their charge was to cast out fear. "He is risen, we have met him, and we know that he lives it is true." From that initial meeting the news of Jesus spread like wild fire; in spite of deep prejudice and fear, in spite of dead memory, in spite of fear, the Marys shook the friends of Jesus with the good news, "He is risen, do not be afraid, he will meet you in Galilee."

In fact he would meet them much sooner than that, in Jerusalem and today's gospel describes how in spite of the enthusiasm of the two Marys some of the disciples were determined to keep the culture of doubt alive. And so in today's gospel in the upper room in Jerusalem Jesus appears and says "Peace be with you." "You are all forgiven," amazing words of comfort to the quaking disciples.

First the two Marys then Jesus himself, is that not enough, they need to be convinced. Good Friday, the pain the suffering, the stone the angel two women, still not enough. Now Jesus is himself in their midst. Thomas however wants belief on his own terms, and says later in the same chapter, "Unless I see the nail marks, put my fingers in his wounds, I will not believe." Good old Thomas making demands of God to suit himself.

One week later they are together again in the same place and Jesus returns with the same greeting, "Peace be with you." Thomas asks for proof, here the words of the risen Christ are profoundly touching, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out and put your hand in my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas gets more than he asks for. All that Thomas can do is submit to his Lord, "My Lord and my God."

One week after Easter Day the gospel speaks of overcoming fear. A good deal of our lives are spent in either creating fear in others, or in hiding in our own fear.  Thomas is shown the pain of God, he asks for the impossible and Jesus shows Thomas his wounds and makes him enter into the same pain and plunge his hands right into the scars themselves.

There is no other way of learning how to love than to enter into the wounds of Christ and to learn of the pain. Christian belief is not about churches and religion, about church administration or human committees, it about Jesus Christ, his death and his suffering and the cost of faith is to learn that our human suffering is a part of the death of Christ himself. Anything less is phoney religion and based on self inflicted pity. And that has nothing to do with the cross or resurrection, but a lot to do with self interest and sin.

The way to the heart of God is through penitence and an affirmation of life. That is to be found in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that is the centre of why we are here today or any other day.

"Do not be afraid, Peace be with you, do not doubt but believe," Can we say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God"? If we can we have begun the journey of faith. 

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