“On the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors; suddenly, Jesus stood among them and said: Peace be with you, alleluia!”
Tonight’s Magnificat antiphon comes from John 20:19. Praying this antiphon at Vespers, I was struck by that word ‘suddenly’. How lonely and afraid the apostles of Jesus must have been on that dark night after he was crucified! They locked themselves away, for fear that they would be sought out and executed like the Master. All the courage had gone out of them. “The light that was coming into the world” had gone out of it—suddenly, all at once. For a while, everything must have seemed so certain, but that certainty melted away like a morning haze in the face of such inexpressible suffering and death. What did it mean for the one they called משׁיח, the anointed one, and בנ–אלהים, the very Son of God, to have died? It was impossible! Truly “the earth quaked, rocks were split!” Imagine the silence that must have lain heavy over that room. Death had triumphed—the Christ had died!
And at that moment of deepest despair, of most hopeless longing, of greatest fear, the beloved disciple tells us: “suddenly, Jesus stood among them.” How often Our Lord moves ‘suddenly’! The event of the Resurrection itself was sudden: not announced by trumpets, not heralded by angels, not a spectacle for all to see, but quiet, hidden, brief. And when he had risen, he was “seen, not by all,” as this morning’s reading at Lauds reminds us, “but only by such witnesses as had been chosen beforehand by God—by us who ate and drank with him” (Acts 10:41).
Our Lord loves silence. He loves intimacy. He loves surprises! He loves for the weak and the lowly and the suffering and the humiliated and the seemingly beyond all hope to triumph over the strong and the mighty and the violent and the powerful and the apparently victorious. He does the greatest deeds of all time, not lit by Klieg lights and broadcast to the world, but shrouded in humility and mystery, attended by only a few: his coming as a man born to a poor girl in a Bethlehem barn, attended by strangers; his rising from the dead, alone in the tomb, unseen by any but his Father.
His ways are not our ways. But that is because his ways are far better! After all, how much would the apostles have loved for him to appear in all his majesty and put to shame those who had put him to death? But the Lord did not appear to the ones who had killed him. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). No—first in his death he went to the ones who had not known him, and then in his resurrection, he came to the ones who loved him. Even among his disciples, he did not make a grand entrance, like a king returning victorious, but passed invisibly through the locked doors to appear ‘suddenly’ in their midst: a friend surprising his friends.
And what beautiful words did he speak to them in that first moment of their reunion, in that first moment when they would dare permit themselves to hope again, to look into the face of their beloved who they had seen tortured and crucified and realize that, no, indeed, death was no more?—”Peace be with you. Alleluia.”
Friends, what more can any of us say than that?
In these holy days, when the world seems so dark with suffering, let us remember who we are following and why. The world threatens us with violence, with the martyrdom of the sword, or the slow death of sin. We are tempted, like the apostles, to lock ourselves away. But let us remember that no matter how dark is the night, “the world and its enticement are passing away” (1 John 2:17). The worst thing it can threaten us with is death. Yet ours is a god who has already conquered death—and not conquered it in with the weapons of the world, but, as Pope Francis said beautifully this morning, “with weapons of love!”
How often we, like the apostles, gather behind locked doors. We bar them against the evils of the world, against the inconvenience of loving our brothers and sisters, even against the demanding and terrifying love of Our Lord himself. Yet in the haunting words of the Holy Saturday Exsultet: “This is the night that sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and the gloom of sin!” Those words applied to the apostles on the evening of the Sabbath in 33 A.D. and they apply to us on this first night of Easter in 2016. “Be not afraid!” Our Lord is risen from the dead! Let us be brave and assert, yes, LIFE has triumphed over death, LOVE over hatred, JOY over fear, PEACE over violence! We must not close our eyes and pretend evil does not exist. It most certainly does. But evil has already lost. Brothers and sisters, we are the evidence.
A blessed Easter to all of you and each of you. May our God slip through the locked doors of our hearts and his peace dispel our fears, so that he may dwell within us, in this season and always.