Corona Sabbath 5 (First Sunday after Easter)
Date: April 19, 2020
Scripture: John 20:19-31
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Rest in peace. This phrase is on many gravestones. It is a saying that we offer as comfort in the face of death. Because we need peace when confronted with death.
In the story we heard from the gospel of John we see just that. Death. And peace. The reality of death is underscored in the exchange involving Thomas. Unless I see the wounds, I won’t believe it. The death of Jesus is real. This is not some sham death. Something staged. A trick. Jesus was really killed. Dead. To this precious mortal life.
And there is peace in the story. Three times Jesus declares: Peace be with you. The disciples are afraid, distraught, in shock. And they are given what they need most – peace. In the face of the horrific death of their dearly beloved friend they receive peace.
One of the important dimensions of our faith is that it offers us peace in the face of the stark reality of death. This is a key function of religion in general: Helping human beings deal with death.
The stories of Jesus appearing alive after the crucifixion were a way for people of that day and time to find peace in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. In a context where life after death was associated with important cultural figures, Jesus’ followers found peace in associating this pattern with Jesus. It gave his friends and followers peace to conceive of Jesus alive in a new way, his presence continuing. The stories of the resurrected Jesus show us how his friends experienced the peace which passes all understanding even after his death.
The follow up, that this eternal life was offered to everyone after death, was also a source of peace and comfort. The concept of Jesus coming back from the dead in a new way and inviting people to live eternally with him after death is a way of offering peace in the face of death.
Death is a natural, inevitable part of life. So it is important that we find ways to make peace with death. This is one of the things that our faith gives us: A way to experience peace around death.
The stories of the resurrection of Jesus and eternal life with him in a heavenly realm are a way of making peace with death; of experiencing peace and comfort around death. We may look forward to seeing our loved ones who have gone before us. That is beautiful. There can be great relief and comfort in that image. And we are grateful that our faith offers that vision of peace around death.
For some people, the concept of life after death, some kind of ongoing life does not offer comfort. It can seem too magical, unbelievable, or unscientific. If it gives you more peace to believe that when you die your individual physical life is over and you go on in the memories of those who have known you, that’s ok. If it gives you peace to think you will be cremated, buried, and become soil and return to the earth, and that is the completion of your life, then that is beautiful.
If you are at peace with not knowing what, if anything, happens after the last breath is exhaled and the body dies, that is fine, too.
If people find peace in the idea of returning to this life in another form, some kind of reincarnation, then that is wonderful. What is important is making peace with death.
I recently saw an interview with the people who made the movie “Fantastic Fungi.” The movie is about the importance of mushrooms and fungi to the health of the planet and to the health of people. In one segment, a man shares how he was told that his cancer was spreading. He was very anxious and afraid. The doctor gave him a pamphlet about a program that involved taking the drug psilocybin, obtained from mushrooms, in a controlled setting, to help cultivate spiritual peace. The man followed up and arranged for an appointment. He tells of experiencing a higher power. It gave him peace and comfort and assurance that he never could have dreamed of. And he now has peace around death, even his own impending death. He is not afraid. Again, what is important is the idea of knowing peace in the face of death.
We also know that the condition of our relationships has a lot to do with our experiencing peace in the face of death. Notice that in the story from John, Jesus challenges his followers to forgive. Forgiveness is part of creating peace in our lives and in our relationships. And this contributes to our experiencing peace around death. Our faith teaches us to live with honesty, authenticity, and humility, freely giving and receiving forgiveness. This kind of life helps to foster peace with death. So whatever our thoughts about what happens after we take our last breath, to cultivate peace around death involves how we live and the condition of our relationships while we are still breathing in this life.
Our faith involves turning “our mourning into dancing” as we are told in the Psalms. It is about experiencing transcendent peace in this life when confronted with the reality of death. We believe in a God that can never be fully known, a God of infinite love. We do not want to limit how people may experience peace around death. That peace may come in many different ways.
What is important, I think, is that we are trusting Divine Love to offer us peace when we are facing the deepest sense of sorrow and loss imaginable. Peace in the face of death. And the stories of Easter and the resurrection show us how that happened for those first century friends of Jesus. These stories show us a God of endless creativity and eternal love.
In this time of COVID-19 and the tremendous suffering, grief, and death that we are seeing, it is important for us to think about how we are associating peace and death. This disease is disrupting how people are used to finding peace in the face of death. We are used to being with our loved ones when they die. We find support in communal gatherings in the aftermath of death. We rely on traditional rituals to process our loss and grief. With the necessity of physical distancing, it is particularly difficult to find peace around death at this time.
Easter reminds us to trust that the healing will come. There is peace in the face of death. The story from John reminds us of the completely unexpected ways that the disciples experienced peace around the death of Jesus. There will be ways for us to find peace in the face of death even during this Corona time. We can trust the infinite creativity of Divine Love. Amen.
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