Acts 2:14a, 22-32 • Psalm 16 • 1 Peter 1:3-9 • John 20:19-31
In the pandemic world we are now inhabiting, each of us is shut up inside our own home, for fear of the virus. It's not that different from the disciples, who were shut up for fear of the authorities when in walks Jesus. The disciples are overjoyed. Jesus gets right to the point – four points, really: peace, mission, a spirit of holiness, and forgiveness. All of these topics are covered in a short three verses, and all of it speaks volumes to our current quarantine predicament.
Jesus begins by saying "peace be with you." For the disciples, terrified that they too might be crucified, a sense of inner peace may have been in short supply. Peace between the disciples may have been lacking too. When people are confined together in a small space, tension between them can grow fast. Thomas, who was not there, had probably slipped out for supplies. He had also probably gone for a few minutes to get away from the others! In normal times, people operate like the tide, coming together and separating, allowing us each time to recollect ourselves alone. Shut up together, it's easy to lose peace within, and to overreact to others.
But the greeting of Peace was not simply Jesus wishing them group harmony for its own sake. Peace was going to be needed for them to think clearly, to manage the realistic fear of danger, and to work together, all necessary for what Jesus had to say next: I'm sending you out. And then, Jesus is breathing a spirit of holiness on them and telling them to wear it, like clothes.
Wearing holiness seems to be a tall order, but then again, maybe not. I once heard a woman of the Islamic faith talking about the shawl she wears for her prayer time, and then using that same shawl as a head covering when she goes out – literally wrapping herself in her prayers for the day ahead. It sounded like a physical taking on of the spirit of her prayers, an assuming of not only the content, but the whole attitude of a prayerful person. This humble spirit, the opposite of self-righteousness, comes when a person finally quits trying so hard, finding herself facing and at peace with what is.
After peace, forgiveness may follow. The one who forgives is set free from continued hurt, resentment, anger, bitterness, and hatred. Occasionally, the forgiver can even see a big enough picture to understand what another person is up against, realizing that there is nothing to forgive. Again, it is up to each of us, whether or not letting go of our judgement of others becomes a habit.
Thomas, quick to judge, is present when Jesus returns a second time and immediately believes in him. Very few of us in any era will see the risen lord or have visions of him or anything else. Most of us are stuck here on the terra firma, in the mundane like Thomas, trying to figure out where to get groceries and hoping for a minute away from it all. Here is our chance though. For in taking one's ordinary life and sifting through it to figure out one's beliefs, an authentic person comes alive. Struggling to identify what matters, and then trying to live accordingly, is a blessing one can give oneself.
Today's reading is all about managing oneself. Being at peace is a choice. Avoiding criticizing others, while so tightly packed together in our homes under coronavirus lockdown, is the simple but profound challenge. Attention to self-control, rather than focusing on others, is a beginning step. Taking on a gentle, holy spirit and wearing it like a soft shirt is a choice. Forgiving, stopping the blaming, seeing what the other person is up against: all choices. Developing beliefs – up to each of us. Plenty to work on, so that when finally the quarantine is over and we are sent out into the world again, each of us can go with more ability to manage the inner self.
Morning: How do I want to manage myself today? What sort of person do I want to be?
Evening: Where did I find peace in my life? What do I believe?
Psalm 16:11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.