The Apostles needed the superabundance of mercy that Christ showed them. So do we.
The risen Jesus appears in the midst of his disciples; St. Luke tells us that “they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
Why were they afraid? On the one hand, it seems like they should have been afraid. For there is evidently not peace among them. They had betrayed the Lord. Remember that only the apostle John followed Jesus to the foot of the cross. How could they have been at peace with God after such tumult?
Then, because they betrayed the Lord, there must have been tensions internally among themselves. If we know, thanks to the record of the Scriptures, that Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, surely the other disciples knew that too. Poor Thomas didn’t believe the word of the others that Jesus had truly risen. The closest friends of the Lord were not all in all of one accord.
And there was a third conflict. Think how torn the disciples who were believing Jews must have been. Suddenly, after years of witnessing Jesus’ miracles and hearing his marvelous teaching, they found themselves squarely at odds with their own beloved tradition. What were they to do? Renounce once and for all the Gospel of Jesus? Could things really go back to being the same as they had been before?
From unrest, peace
The resurrection is a startling thing. Unsure of what God had done in their midst, the disciples approach the Lord with fear and trembling. Out of an abundance of mercy, Jesus assured his closest friends that he had indeed risen from the dead. He ate and drank in their midst. He taught them. He loved them. It is a mercy that Jesus appears among them, walking once more with them, providing the confidence the disciples needed to preach the Gospel.
The fruit of this mercy is peace. Jesus greets the disciples saying, “Peace be with you.” This is not mere formality. It’s not simply a regional or religious custom that Jesus is following. St. Thomas Aquinas says,
It was necessary to say this because their peace was disturbed in many ways.
Repeatedly, Jesus stands among those he loves, and through his steadfast mercy, offers them peace.
Our experience, too
If we think about, though, the trouble, we see the unrest experienced by those first disciples is not theirs alone. Rather, this is the tumult known by every follower of Jesus. Theirs is the archtypical experience, but it is ours as well.
- We find our own relationship with God mired by our sins. How many times have we run from Calvary, rather than following Jesus to the cross? How many times have we been the sheep that scatter, rather than remaining with the shepherd (Matt 26:31)? By the Lord’s suffering and death, he has reconciled our every fault. Jesus, through the cross, allows us to be reunited with the Father. Jesus comes to us, standing in our midst, everytime we approach the confessional. There, behind a closed door, we can bare our hearts to him, and we can be reconciled.
- We find ourselves at odds with other believers. As perhaps the disciples were before, we find ourselves angry or struggling to forgive. Whether we have been failed by the sins of the clergy—priests and bishops who have betrayed their calling—or we feel unwelcome or unseen by the Church, it belongs to us as followers of Christ to continue to show up, to gather together. Jesus appears to the apostles together. Because they remained together, despite difference and injury, Jesus was able to grant their restless hearts peace. Are we depressed or hesitant about our faith? He will grant us his peace.
- Christians are not of this world. Our need to worship, our belief that every person matters and is worthy of our respect and love, our ideas about marriage and family life, our refusal to allow morality to be reduced to materialist or utilitarian ends… all this and more puts us squarely in contest with the world around us. How can we love when it is so difficult to be good? How can my voice pierce the ever rising violent fervor? We have to look to Jesus. His peace will reign in our hearts, and then despite persecution, evil or suffering, people will see his peace in us. They will want to reign in their own hearts too.
The only way to peace
The peace Jesus brings is an awesome—as in full of awe—and terrible thing. Awesome, because there is nothing like it. Who could imagine God would love us so much that his peace would burst into these clouds of darkness of our hearts? Terrible, because, as St. John Chrysostom says,
Doing away with every difficulty, He gathered together in one the merits of the Cross, which are peace, because all hindrances are taken away.
Only by his suffering and death does this peace come to us.
Look to God with awe this day. Marvel at his work! Embrace too his way of the cross, for in the end, imitation of him is the only way to peace.