Like a bloom, the peace of Christ allows faith to blossom amid flaws and failures.

Our flaws, failures, and fears do not define us! Jesus comes to us and speaks peace to our ailing hearts and builds our faith.

The passage can be read here: John 20:1-19

The Individual’s Encounter with Christ

You may have noticed that each Gospel writer portrays Jesus’ life differently. Matthew takes snippets of Jesus’ story and pairs them with passages from the Hebrew Scriptures to show how Jesus fulfills the hopes and dreams of both prophets and poets.

Mark skips the genealogy of Jesus and starts with the baptism. Luke takes a personal approach and includes more firsthand eyewitness accounts than any other writer. Finally, John includes large chunks of Christ’s teachings while incorporating symbols and metaphors throughout. 

The writers differ, yet a common thread unites them: each writer slows their pace when it comes to the last week of Jesus’ life. They include more details, provide names of individuals, and include even the flaws and misgivings of the disciples. Each writer highlights how each person in the story interacts with the startling reality of Jesus over those three very holy but scandalous days.

It causes the reader (me and you) to ask, “Where am I in this story? If I were there, how would I respond?”

That’s the question I want to ask you today. How do you respond to this? Do you find yourself in this story? Are you Mary, Peter, John, Thomas, or another?

Like each writer and each person in each gospel passage, we bring our own stories, our own faith, and even our own resistance to the table.

I come to you with good news: none of that disqualifies us from encountering the graciousness of Jesus Christ. Still, Christ is risen for you.

Questions, Faith, and Failures Meet at the Tomb

As our text relates, at dawn, Mary Magdalene hurried to the cemetery where Jesus lay entombed. Carved into the mountainside, the tomb was sealed with a massive stone, but upon arrival, she found it mysteriously and unexplainably opened.

Grave robbing had been a common occurrence in those times, so fear gripped Mary’s heart. The horrifying possibility that thieves had desecrated Jesus’ body or his resting place overwhelmed her. The thought of yet another tragedy befalling her had been unbearable. So much so, that she ran away from the grave fearing what she might discover.

Mary alerted the disciples, who unlike her, had fled in fear when Jesus was arrested. Peter and John raced to the tomb. Did they run there because they believed? Did they run there because it was impossible to believe in the resurrection–although they had seen it once already?

Peter and John each have a storm of emotions stirring inside of them. The last time he was with Jesus, Peter had flatly denied knowing him. After talking such a big game, Peter not only denied Jesus three times, but he also ran away.

The last time John was with him, Jesus had commended his mother to him and said, “John, take care of my mom. Mom, John is going to take care of you.” In other words, I know you two will be okay together. Initially, John ran away but came back slowly to the cross.

John brings timid faithfulness. Peter brings failure. They meet at the tomb.

As Peter and John reached the tomb, they examined it. It seemed doubtful that grave robbers were the culprits because they would not have bothered to carefully fold the burial clothes that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body and head.

We are told that Peter looked in and believed. Believed what? He believed that the body was stolen. In the text (John 20:8-9), we are told he does not yet know Jesus has been resurrected. Peter completely misses all that Jesus had taught him about the whole situation!

Mary reapproached the tomb and saw two angels who declared, “Do not seek the living among the dead!” She turned around and came face-to-face with Jesus but did not recognize the truth standing right before her.

Let me summarize this: Mary brings fear. Peter brings failure. John brings timid faithfulness. They are all trying to figure it out. Sometimes truth is obscured by experience.

Varied Failings and a Common Source of Grace and Peace

Despite their varied emotions and state, Mary, Peter, and John share a common source of grace – Jesus.

Jesus speaks Mary’s name, and she immediately knows it is him! This good news immediately changes her situation. Indeed, there were no grave robbers! The reason the grave is empty is because Jesus is alive!

You see, her questions, fears, tears, assumptions, and blindness, do not disqualify her from the nearer presence of Christ. She becomes the messenger of the best news the world has ever heard.

As for Peter and John, they are gathered in a home with the door locked because they are deeply afraid and confused. Jesus entered their midst and spoke peace, the single word they needed as a balm for their worries and anxieties.

Christ spoke peace and not chaos, shame, guilt, or disqualification. None of that. We are together again, friends, and all is well. Let not your hearts be troubled. Let them be stilled. Peace.

They had heard those words before.

In the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, Jesus and the disciples had spent the day serving the community, feeding several thousand people. In the evening he told the disciples, “Let’s row the boats over the Sea of Galilee and minister in the towns over their next.”

In his exhaustion, Jesus fell asleep, but a storm grew strong and violent. The waves grew heavy and big and began to swamp the boat. This will kill us all! This will send us to the grave! This is terrifying! Fear grips them. 

Jesus is dead asleep. 

They wake him up. “We’re being swamped by this storm! We are scared. You are asleep. This is unpredictable and if you don’t do something to help, we will sink into the abyss.”

Jesus wakes up, stands up, and speaks up, “Peace. Be still.”

Instead of the disciples dying, the winds and waves die down. All was calm, even their hearts. The storm scared them, but this kind of power frightened them: Who is this man?

And now, the evening after the resurrection, they are faced with the same question: Who is this speaking peace to the storm inside me? Who is this who even the grave and death obey? 

Who is this who offers peace and presence, even as I’m being stormed by fears and failures as I’m trying to figure out my faith?

People of faith, this peace and this presence of a loving and gracious Christ finds us, defines us, and redefines us. 

Peace Before Us, Peace Under Our Feet and Faith

 Life can feel like a storm and can threaten to undo us. We can hole ourselves up, isolate ourselves, and lock the doors of faith and investigation. We have limits to what we can know and limits to what we can do. Yet God is not limited by our limits. 

Contrary to what we may think, this doesn’t disqualify you; it qualifies you to be a follower and friend of Jesus. 

Come to the tomb. Ask the questions. Investigate. 

Failures and flaws are not the enemies. Our greatest enemy is the resistance we have to integrating them into our lives. Christ accepts us as we are –we are the sheep who, for some reason, go astray. We tend to go our own way, yet he seeks, finds, and brings us back.

The way back for some may be a conversation about baptism, or seeking out a carrying and sensitive congregation, trying mediation, prayer, or reading a gospel. The way back could be a radical rethinking of what faith is (or isn’t), because Jesus said to lose our life was to gain it back.

Whatever it may be like Mary, Peter, and John found to be true at the tomb, and much like the disciples found in the home that evening, may you and I discover that nothing on heaven or other can ever steal our peace.

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