By Father Casey
This weekend we hear the story of the evening of the first Easter. We are all pretty familiar with the story of Easter morning, when the women find the tomb empty and Mary Magdalene meets a man she thinks is the gardener but is actually Jesus. That’s the story we celebrate on Easter Day, a story of amazement and fear and, eventually, joy.
But a lot more happened that day, according to the gospels – far more than just the discovery of the empty tomb. That afternoon, two disciples spent hours walking to Emmaus and eventually discovered that the stranger they’d been traveling with all day was actually Jesus. So they hustled all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples, and just as they began to share their story, Jesus was right there with them all.
That’s where we’ll pick up on Sunday, at the end of a very long and eventful Sunday, as Jesus himself stood among the startled and terrified disciples who thought they were seeing a ghost and said to them, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36-37).
What always amazes me about Easter is not that Jesus comes back – we all know that the hero always comes back – but what Jesus does when he’s back. Instead of rebuking the disciples for their cowardice, instead of shaming them for running away and abandoning him, instead of getting revenge for his suffering, the first thing he does is to say, “Peace be with you.”
My friends, no matter what happens in life, no matter how badly we disappoint ourselves, or those we love, or even Jesus, Jesus always comes back to us. He does not abandon us. He will always show up, no matter what. But not to rebuke or punish or seek revenge. His first words to us will always be words of Peace. Always.
We live in a vengeful culture, where getting even is an artform and words quickly lead to violence. If we have been harmed, or even threatened, the “right” thing to do is to show force so that we don’t appear weak, and so the person who hurt us knows we won’t tolerate it again. That’s how our nation conducts policy; that’s how politicians engage their opponents in elections; that’s how professional athletes act toward competitors. Fuel up on rage and then go after revenge.
This is not the way of Jesus.
I can’t help but wonder how the world would be different if more Christians would remember that the significance of Easter is not only that Jesus is raised, but that his first action is to offer words of peace. He came back from the dead not to get even, but to show us that getting even is a fools errand. He came back to release us from slavery to rage and vengeance. He came back to show us that violence is not a tool of the Kingdom of God.
We occasionally get glimpses of this, and they are usually both simple and profound. Just over month ago, two old men had tea together in a small home in Baghdad. Their meeting made the news, but you might have missed it. These days, violence and hostility draw our attention better than two men having tea. One was a guest who wore white and removed his shoes upon entering the home of the other, who wore black and a turban. For nearly an hour, they drank tea and talked about how to help the world experience more peace and less vengeance. Their conversation was not altogether unlike any we might have with someone new, when we decide to risk enough to talk about more than the weather.
The two men were, of course, Pope Francis and the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and their meeting feels like a holy echo of the “Shalom” Jesus spoke that first Easter evening. Violence and vengeance are not the way the world becomes more like heaven. More weapons and more conflict are not how the Kingdom of God will come nearer. Standing in the presence of people who would be our enemies, loving them as a neighbor, treating them like friends…that is how the rage machine polluting our world will finally shudder to a stop and the peace that passes all understanding will reach every corner of the earth.