The doors of the house where the disciples were gathered, are shut: indeed, they are locked as the people inside are very frightened (John 20:19-23). Yet, this is not a barrier as Jesus appears among his disciples, offering them God’s peace. Peace is given to them and they see Jesus’ hands and his side, still showing the wounds from the crucifixion three days earlier and they are joyful. Jesus says to them again: Peace be with you.
The locked doors suggest the disciples have not believed Mary’s report of having seen the Lord; they have not gone looking for Jesus. They were still fearful.
I’ve been thinking about fear and the offering of peace which is the first thing Jesus says to his frightened, silent friends after his resurrection. Fear and silence allow terrible things to be done. The Belarusian Nobel Peace Laureate has been imprisoned for 10 years for speaking out about human rights. The Holocaust happened in silence. Domestic and Family Violence happens in silence. Protesting voices are silenced in the US, England, and in our own country over stories we don’t want to hear because they disturb our peace. However, God’s peace will disturb us. Jesus has promised his disciples the Spirit of Truth – truth about God’s peace. It is disturbing!
Have you thought deeply about peace, what it means, feels like and sounds like; when it tips from being risky into being trusted, or from a complacent, sloppy peace to powerlessness and violence? Have you thought about actively creating peace in our world, our communities and homes as a Christian? Through Christian living and prayer, we encounter peace in the Hebrew word shalom, meaning wholeness, a human completeness restored only in God through Christ who died for us, taking away our sin, our separateness from God, restoring us to God’s love and purpose, so we can live in peace.
Peace is not simply the absence of war or conflict, feeling virtuous about our restraint, but truly living in Christ without fear, hatred or shame, alongside others who are different in faith, race, nationality, gender and sexuality, ability and life-experience, who are all God’s children. In such a way we find amazingly, living vulnerably in Christ brings God’s peace.
God’s peace is not something we can create on our own, it is a fruit of the Spirit. God is the only source of a truthful, just, righteous, complete peace.
The story of Jesus and how his wounds were inflicted because he loved humanity too much, takes us to uncomfortable, fearful places when we then explore our own limits of love for our neighbours and ourselves. We might think we want peace, but generally we want it on our terms with God in our corner helping us. We get cranky when God doesn’t quite get it!
Yet God did not send Jesus into the world to maintain the status quo for the powers and dominions of the world, but to the margins, to turn societal norms upside down. Jesus lived this truth: the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the rich and the poor will be upended, thrones will be overturned, long-held privilege will be found irrelevant, the hungry will be fed, the imprisoned and fearful will be set free.
On reflection, I ask myself, are our neighbours invited to our table? Are we asking them to meet our rules of entry based on our privilege: or are we sharing God’s love with so much profligacy they are daring to imagine a new creation, a new world where fear and exclusion are no longer experienced because God is truly present in the Holy Spirit and they are complete? No wonder it was described as tongues of fire, such a blaze of truth can never be hidden or silenced.
God’s peace is not found among the powers and dominions. We all inflicted Jesus’ wounds, in fear, hatred and rejection, justifying violence and division as self defence. Always more checks needed to ensure only the right people have access to our peace. We remember with grief, Jesus was killed by the status quo in which we have all invested, working hard to maintain it.
We look at Jesus’ wounds and reflect on our part in Jesus’ death. Yet Jesus comes unhindered by our fears, guilt or shame and freely gives ‘Peace’, to every single one of us. With this greeting, he keeps his promise to give us peace, but not as the world gives (John14:27).
Showing his wounds was part of peace sharing; as the wounds bear witness to the worst the world can do. It tells us clearly the truth that the worst is overcome. What remains to be feared? God’s peace will prevail. Jesus does not ask the disciples to conquer their fears on their own, as he ‘breathes’ on them the gift of the Holy Spirit, as they accept Jesus’ direction. Those of us who call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, must be equally willing to take on and commit ourselves to Jesus’ peacemaking, as difficult and costly today as it was 2,000 years ago. The radical vision of God’s kingdom is no less threatening to society today than it was in Jesus’ time. Those who work to include the excluded, despised and marginalized, to love our enemies, and bring justice for the oppressed must be prepared for rejection, harassment and God’s peace.
Dietrich Bonhoffer put it bluntly: When Christ calls someone, he bids him come and die. We are lucky not to face persecution and death in Australia for our faith, in following Jesus and working for God’s peace. However, we cannot do this on our own. The Holy Spirit transforms us from an argumentative group of people using division and conflict to gain peace, into a group of people who trust God and who are themselves transformed by God’s peace. It’s not easy to be a peacemaker on the margins, alongside the despised, rejected and oppressed. Our country is harrowed by violence in our homes, in the calls for war, and in our abuse and verbal violence against First Nations people and those who experience difference in sexuality and gender.
Nevertheless, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to follow Jesus in this radical peacemaking work, trusting Christ is working in us. The glimpses of peace we see and experience will continue to provide hope in a battered world, transforming it in fits and starts until the day comes when Christ will perfect God’s work and bring on the fullness, the completeness and magnificence of God’s peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matt.5:9)
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2013. Feasting on the Gospels John, Vol. 2 Chapters 10-21. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Moloney, F.J., SDB. 1988. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series Vol.4. [Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., Ed] A Michael Glazier Book, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.