Peace Be With You - Based on COVID-19 Pandemic and John 20:19-21. Done by Virtual Presentation, St. David's North Austin Medical Center, 1100 in April 12, 2020
Sermon on April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday
Peace be with you!
I am David Little, Chaplain, and employee, care provider, and friend. שלום לך, (Shalom Aleichem) (response aleichem shalom ("unto you peace")), Asalamalakum (“"Peace be unto you") (response wa alaikum assalam (“and upon you be peace.”)), Namaste (na Mas té)(Hindu – “I bow to the Divine in You” - hands pressed together in prayer, bowing) (response NAMASTE, Jeete raho ( God bless you )), and Jesus is Risen (response “He is risen indeed”). For other faiths, know that I as Chaplain welcome you to this service, and though I can’t say all the greetings, know that I greet you, and hope you will be blessed by this service. I hope this time will be filled with love, care, comfort, and peace “in the midst” of this crisis. A rest, from the work, toil, preparation, and spiritual toll – to rejuvenate you and give you heart that others in this chaos are right there with you, feeling maybe similar to you, and we are in this fight together.
Fear, anxiousness, tension – for yourself, family, patients, friends. Physical, financial which brings emotional and spiritual consequences. Depression? Aloneness? Separateness?
At the hospital – Patients – not only are you not-well physically, you are in the hospital where people who have the new Coronavirus go to hopefully get better. But you are potentially exposed at a time when your body is weak, and your immune system is compromised. Plus, you have no family because of restrictions to try and keep others from coming to the hospital, as you can get COVID-19 from somebody that has no symptoms! Scary! And family – this far into the restrictions - is limited to none. We are getting “zoom” or “FaceTime” to link families together. Not the best, but better than nothing.
Or you are hospital staff – on the front lines of this pandemic, some of the first responders. You have a service heart, but you put in long hours, have family to go home to and risk them getting infected because of you, and have the patient’s interest before your own, while at the same time taking reasonable steps – which are sometimes hard – to protect yourself, and self-care.
Or you are the leadership of the hospital – making tough decisions for the good of the community but having to choose to not let family members in when their loved one is sick or even dying. Listening and being with people – including patients – that don’t like where they are and have an even dismal view of the near future and having a hopeful or at least matter-of-fact disposition. At the same time, you have families to go home to as well – if there’s time.
Love, care, comfort in crisis
I have seen crisis in my 53-year walk, as have you. In my journey: combat, stroke, and a home fire - to pick a few of the examples- I knew that God’s love in crisis was palpable. Not only that, but my faith says often times the palpability is acted through people – we call them “the body of Christ” in Christian circles, but it was more than that – it was the community, wider than just Christians. But they were showing me and my family the Creator’s love in the crisis through care, comfort, and compassion. I hope that during this crisis, we collectively are looking for someone else to serve, who might be suffering more than we. And if we are suffering, I hope that we - like me and my family in crisis - feel the love of God through people that are walking beside us in the chaos.
This Sunday is Easter on the Christian calendar. Last Sunday was what the Christians call Palm Sunday, where a man named Jesus about 2,000 years ago came into Jerusalem triumphantly, only to be betrayed, flogged, and crucified 6 days later. The disciples and friends of Jesus had their “messiah” – who was supposed to lead the into peace and prosperity – suddenly tried, beaten, and suffered the most miserable death that could be imagined by the Roman government. Whatever you think about it – whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or some other faith (including atheists), you have to think that for the disciples, it was a turn around that was hard to watch, hard to live through, and depression was at their proverbial door, if not in their hearts.
Our situation - Crisis
Psychiatrists, psychologists, pastors, priests, imams, rabbies, archaka’s (Hindu), counselors, chaplains, and a host of others – including the military - will say that in times of crisis the mind, emotions, body, and soul go to some often-strange places. As a Chaplain, and one who is a Stroke Survivor, I have empathy for those who are struggling. I suspect that people that have a “service heart” – as I call it – have the same feeling when they see sickness, death, depression, or some other condition that leaves one – what I call “broken” – inside, outside, or both.
Often, you get focused inside – yourself, your family – building up walls or shields to protect you or your family. I can see walls being built up daily by folks in this crisis. Can I say that we’re all in this together, though it certainly hits some harder than others? For those affected personally by this COVID-19 pandemic, I certainly don’t know where you are spiritually – and to some extent, personally - but know that I’m praying for you and will try to walk with you if you’ll let me. We are relational people, and I hope that you will reach out to someone and they’ll walk with you always in the chaos. For those affected globally, know that you, too, are in crisis and have to be aware that others around you are in crisis. As I said, we are all in this together, so let’s lock virtual arms and go forward – with social distancing, of course – side by side.
When I was going through crisis in the past, my faith was valuable, and I held onto the scriptures and a sense of spirituality that had hope and a future in my life. I am a Christian – and a Baptist minister, though. Whatever spirituality you are, in times of crisis, I hope you have a Creator, or someone to pray to, have faith in, and hold onto faith when the world seems to be struggling – even evil, some would say.
But back to my story of Easter. On Sunday, after Jesus was crucified on Friday, the tomb was empty – a huge boulder that sealed it was rolled away, and Jesus stood before the disciples in the locked room of the house that they were staying – really hiding – in for fear of the Jews. You heard in the Scripture Lesson what Jesus told the disciples in crisis.
John 20:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[a] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
John 20:19 Greek Ioudaioi probably refers here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, in that time
He said Peace! The New Testament was written mostly in Akoine Greek. He stood “in the midst of them” – so one Greek translation says – and gave them light in the darkness or hope in the chaos. He was relational and stood among them. In this time of social distancing, some or all of us need people to stand with us in chaos. Even though we hope for peace, peace is something that few can find in chaos or crisis. Yet, peace is what we long for in times like these. Your presence can offer peace to people hurting. That’s what Jesus did, and the presence of their Lord was calming and made them glad – or “rejoiced” according to another Greek translation. Joy in crisis.
Now “Peace be with you” or “Peace to you” was a common Jewish saying in those days as well as today – “Shalom to you!” (Shalom Aleichem). It is – I believe – common in Islamic settings, too - Asalamalakum means “Peace be unto you”). In the Christian view, it is Shalom – Peace - because it is the peace of reconciliation from God because of the cross. Yet, it was more than that – he was trying to give them courage, calm down their fear, and give them something to do. It is a life-changing event in the disciples’ life. This is part of “the Commissioning” of the disciples to a life of service; a life of ministry in love. Many of you have – what I call – a “service heart”; Use your service heart during this time in love, and for those with losses, know that we want to walk along with you in the crisis – whatever you’re facing.
So, the magnitude of Easter is great amongst the Christians, and should give them a Savior, a hope, and a future. Hallelujah! But even if you take it as a story, you can see that the disciples were downcast, in fear, and in hiding because their world had just been shattered. And Jesus – someone who loved them and cared – came in the midst of them and gave them love and comfort, and peace that surpasses all understanding, as Philippians says.
Philippians 4:7 English Standard Version (ESV)
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I have seen some scenes in this hospital that would bring you to tears. HIPAA prevents me from saying more, but the “service hearts” in action around here bring beauty and hope even in the midst of crisis. I hope that in this time, in this crisis, we can come alongside each other and continue to give – or receive - love, comfort, and peace during the chaos.
The Hebrew Bible, which is sacred amongst the Jews, divinely inspired according to the Christians, and Muslims believe it was Allah’s at least partial word to Jews (Sūrah 5:44), has a part of it “Prophets.” I hope that a prophet from 2500 years ago gives you some peace and blessing on this day.
It is in a book called Jeremiah, named after the prophet, who lived in 600 – 500 B.C., and was present for the first Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 597 and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586. It was a sad time for Israelites, and the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. was abhorrent to everything the Jews held dear, including a house for their LORD, which will go unnamed per Jewish tradition. Jeremiah was frank with the Israelites, telling them – as a word from the LORD - if they didn’t turn from their ways, judgment would come upon them. The Israelites didn’t turn completely from their ways, and so Israel was judged, the territory was overrun, the Temple was destroyed, and many of the Israelites were deported to Babylon. Talk about struggling – the Israelites had virtually everything taken away from them!
I would think that Jeremiah would say – “see, I told you;” and he did, of sorts, saying to the deported people to remain in exile for 70 years. But the LORD said through Jeremiah this:
Jeremiah 29:11 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 Or peace
The parallels to our crisis and Jeremiah’s crisis stop at some point. The story of Jeremiah and Israel’s crisis does not mimic the story of today’s COVID-19 crisis. I, for one, don’t think this pandemic is brought on by the Lord for anything we did or didn’t do. It is just a struggle in this world that we have to get through together.
I hope that you have had a rest from the troubles of today for this hour. That you have had comfort and care in this setting. And that you have had love, peace, and a sense of belonging during this time and it will stay with you in the hospital and beyond.