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It was still the very first Easter day. “That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors … Jesus came and stood among them. He said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19) I experience this story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples differently this year. Locked away in our homes for over a month now, fearful of going out and catching the COVID-19 virus, the image of the disciples locked behind closed doors is especially vibrant. They had a hint of God’s Easter surprise, but did they dare to believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene? Jesus appeared to them his wounds still evident on his body and brought them a message of peace. This message of peace is deeper than not feeling anxious or in conflict. The word translated “peace” is more holistic. It means well-being, wholeness, completeness, harmony, safety, health, freedom, prosperity, salvation. All that meaning packed into “Peace be with you.” As Jesus’ disciple some two thousand plus years later, I need to hear those words from my Savior today, “Peace be with you.” The peace that Jesus gives us brings us new life and calls us to respond. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22) That image seems ironic today and kind of makes me uncomfortable as we wear masks to keep from breathing on each other, and yet the breath of Christ gives us his Spirit and his mission.

Even in the midst of these crazy days of pandemic, our churches are continuing to offer the peace of Christ to us and to others. I have been inspired by the many creative ways our churches are proclaiming Christ in a COVID-19 world. From livestreaming, YouTube, or podcast worship to Sunday School lessons and youth groups on video or by Zoom to weekly family activities for “church in the home” to caring callers on the phone to making and collecting facemasks for healthcare workers or the vulnerable homeless to feeding meals to first responders – our churches are not closed, they are deployed. They are reaching out in new ways and in some very familiar ways. Christ’s peace is being shared in surprising ways in a time we would never have anticipated. Perhaps this is a very appropriate way to share the season of surprise, the Easter season, when God defeated death and surprised the world with Christ’s resurrection. I offer you a prayer inspired by Sharlande Sledge’s litany called Surprise:

Surprising God, keep us expectant, open, sensitive to your Easter hope.

When we expect a parched dryness, give us your Living Water. When we expect anger, give us calm. When we expect questions, give us prayers.

Surprising God, when we expect loneliness, give us memories. When we expect helplessness, give us hopefulness. When we expect the commonplace, give us flashes of your glory.

Surprising God, when we expect strangers, give us companions on the road. When we expect bread and wine, give us Christ. When we expect death, give us resurrection.

God of Easter, surprise us with your overwhelming grace. Amen.

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Author: Nancy Cushman

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