During this season of Easter, our first reading each Sunday is from the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles. It describes the beginning and development of the Church, starting, after the Resurrection, in Jerusalem in the East and coming to Rome here in the West.
The reading from Acts we hear this Sunday is drawn from a speech that St Peter gave after the healing of a man born lame. Peter and some other disciples came upon this man who was begging outside the Temple. Invoking the “the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene”, Peter told the man to get up and walk. Immediately, the man began leaping around in delight.
Since then support and care for the sick, which was such a feature of the ministry of Jesus, was to become a defining mark of the work of the Church. Here in this UK, for example, it was the Church, for nearly 20 centuries, which was at the forefront of caring for the sick, supporting the poor and educating the young. Only in the past 75 years or so has health care and education in the UK become free due to state intervention. So just think of the countless generations of women and men who joined religious orders to educate and support the poor as well as care for the sick and the dying. Whatever the Church’s blemished history and appalling scandals of recent times, its care of the sick has been outstanding (and still nurses on hospital wards are given the title of Sister).
Those women and men were animated by Our Lord’s own love for the sick and responded to his calling to share in his healing work. Our Gospel today gives another account of him appearing to his first disciples who went on to continue his ministry to the sick.
As in last Sunday’s Gospel for Mass, Jesus greets the disciples again with the words “Peace be with you.” Peace is the one thing they desperately needed at this time. They had witnessed the death of Jesus and were living in fear of their own fate. In the Gospels of Luke and John, Jesus uses this greeting of ‘peace be with you’ four times after his resurrection.
‘Peace be with you’ was and still is a traditional Jewish and Arabic greeting; it is also commonly used by Arab Christians, both as a greeting and as a liturgical formula. In both languages, when one is greeted with “shalom aleichem” or “as-salaam alaykhum” (Hebrew and Arabic respectively for “peace be with you”), the proper, typical reply in both languages is “and peace be upon you, too”), just as we reply “and with your spirit” in Mass (well, used to do before the pandemic). The ‘peace’ being offered in our case is not just the absence of conflict but the state of tranquillity, calmness and wholeness from knowing Christ. So when we exchange ‘the peace’ in Mass it is the peace of the Risen Jesus we wish for each other.
When Jesus stood among the disciples they at first were agitated, alarmed and even terrified because they feared that the figure before them was a ghost. To reassure them, he invited them to inspect his resurrected body. They saw that he was flesh and blood, still bearing the marks of crucifixion. And as a further proof that he was not a ghost, he shared a meal of fish with them. (Ghosts do not eat). The story then ends with Jesus taking the disciples through texts in the Bible that pointed to him but which only made sense to them after his resurrection.
The fear and terror of those disciples is a reminder to us that in our own lives we also have our moments of agitation, worry and dread. They can range from personal to family or to business nightmares. In such a situation, I find it consoling that in this appearance, Jesus came to these disciples and not they to him. He sought them out and brought them reassurance and peace. It’s a reminder to us that when things are bad and we are going through an anxious or fearful time, the same Jesus is seeking us out to bring reassurance and calm. Of course this won’t spare us from worry and troubles but we will have that peace of knowing that our lives are in his hands, and that he will give bring us something we’d otherwise not have, that strength that comes from him alone and brings peace.
The disciples went from a state of fear to peace when Jesus he came amongst them. In our Mass the same Jesus is saying to us: ‘peace be with you’.
Holy Name, Jesmond
18 April 2021