‘Peace be with you’ are familiar words from Jesus and each other. We say the words and share the peace with one another. We seek it in our regular prayers for peace for the world and the church. However, I wonder if you think about the quality and character of the peace you share.
Peace is not simply an absence of violence or conflict but is an active outworking of God’s Word in the world, speaking into the new creation emerging from the finality of the cross and the brutality of the state sanctioned murder of Jesus.
Peace is resurrection and the new creation in action in the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about peace and its elusive quality, after my reflections on betrayal and forgiveness, by the disciples, including Judas and Peter and by the religious and political leaders.
Peace is not about forgetfulness, or a superficial acknowledgement of ‘everything is ok’. Nor is peace embodied in resentment or silent fury at sins and wounding not yet forgiven. Nor is peace present in demands for absolute perfection without further sinning.
Shalom, the beautiful Hebrew word for ‘peace’ is considered in the Talmud as one of God’s sacred names and we as Christians also teach this. Shalom reminds us as humans and for creation, it is in God where we find absolute fulfilment, joy and delight, wholeness and flourishing. It is the way things should be and in which God delights.
So, what does it mean when God says, ‘Peace be with you’? (John 20:19) What does it mean when a disliked neighbour or family member says this to you? What do you give back? Are you changed? Or not?
Peace stands in complete contrast to fear and hatred, conflict and violence.
The doors of the house and the room where the disciples are gathered are firmly closed on the day of the resurrection. (John 20:19) It is the first day of the new week, and the disciples are in hiding. The story implies the disciples have not believed Mary with her news of Jesus’ resurrection. They have not gone looking for Jesus. They have not remembered Jesus’ instructions to them.
The silence of Peter and the other disciples is loud. It reverberates through our hearts and spirits as we think about what happens after the crucifixion. We can see how the disciples are behaving, responding with fear, not trusting God or Jesus.
It makes me wonder where fear has also taken us and how we respond in the aftermath of political, social, cultural, oppressive powerful violence today?
My anger at what has been done is 2,000 years old and I am still outraged at how we continue to kill Jesus daily with everyone who doesn’t fit our expectations: black deaths in custody, members of the LGBTQI community, refugees, poor people, the unemployed, women, people living with disability and so on.
We need to remember and be reminded God made every person in the world in God’s image. God did not make spare people for us to blame and kill in anger. When we scapegoat and kill with words, or physical, spiritual and emotional violence we diminish God’s creation and remove opportunities for someone to flourish and experience wholeness in God; and we ourselves are diminished by our actions.
Often, our response to injustice is violent. Like the disciples, it is a response filled with rejection, guilt, shame, violence and betrayal. We make decisions we regret as we hurt and blame others. We hold peace to ransom if in our search for justice we turn back into the darkness demanding scapegoats and punishments.
Our anger is righteous and our demands are clear but if we’re not filled with God’s peace, we remain part of the problem rather than the solution.
You could probably taste the guilt, shame, betrayal and grief in the room as the disciples sheltered out of sight, from themselves, from Mary and the other women. However, we are reminded,
This is the message we have heard from Jesus [him] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
I have been reflecting on Thomas, the one disciple who I think saw Jesus and the implications of his ministry most clearly among all the disciples towards the end. You may recall it was Thomas who recognised the consequences of Jesus’ ministry and message when Jesus visited Mary and Martha after Lazarus died.
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow Disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him. (John 11:16)
Just as it was with the first disciples, there is no easy way for us to escape the consequences of following Jesus. Thomas knew raising Lazarus from the dead would bring down the violent wrath of the authorities and put his life in jeopardy. The disciples’ fears were realistic. The collusion between the religious authorities and the Roman Empire destroyed Jesus. The disciples now realised they too would be on the list of suspects if there was further trouble.
We also know if we actively pursue God’s message of justice, love and peace in the world, we will be crucified with Christ.
However, we now find ourselves in this liminal time after Jesus is raised, this in-between time, between death, resurrection and ascension where our old values and insights are changed and we see Jesus differently. Thomas was ahead of us. He knew the peace shared by Jesus is something else entirely new. (John 20:24-29)
For God’s peace to be actively present in the world means understanding we are being invited into a new life, which will encompass the suffering and grief present in this life, the fear, courage and trust growing in God while being a follower as part of our discipleship.
Thomas does not expect or want to see a perfectly restored, beautiful and unmarked Jesus in the flesh, as though the past had been wiped out and never occurred. He wants to see Jesus still bearing the marks of torture and pain. He wants to know it was real. It did happen. It wasn’t a fairy story with a quick fix, which would be a travesty of peace and love.
God’s peace offered by Jesus only makes sense if the wounds are still there, the marks of pain transformed by love, plain for all to see; and the quality of God’s peace means we can believe against all the evidence God’s peace is real and forever.
Peace only makes sense if we let go of cruelty, violence, fear, betrayal and hatred and we experience this in our bodies in response to Jesus’ love for us, for all humanity. Our cries of ‘why’ and ‘how could this happen’ are brought into silence as we see Jesus quietly, lovingly keeping us company in our pain, as our constant companion as he reveals to us God’s love in spite of the hatred in the world. There is nothing else we can do. We are brought undone, and at that moment our own days of abusive, oppressive power and violence are ended.
We value God’s peace if we can experience love and forgiveness by those sharing the peace. And, our willingness to share Jesus’ peace knowing it may be rejected by those with whom we love, friend and enemy alike is the transformation into a new creation Jesus is teaching us.
Thomas, like Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother are all extraordinary witnesses to this new creation, embodied in Jesus’ death and resurrection and sharing of peace.
Both women stood at the foot of the cross holding the violence done to Jesus in their witnessing and shared suffering with Christ on the cross. The women did not demand vengeance or give up and go home, rather they actively followed Jesus to the end and were still there, present, at the birthing of the new beginning.
Thomas, along with the women recognises the difference in the shalom, the peace being shared by Jesus. With his hands in Jesus’ wounds it brings Thomas to his knees, as he sees Jesus is with us till the end: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28)
Like Thomas, Jesus invites us to let go of our hurt, our betrayals, our grief and pain and to share in God’s peace.
Peace be with you.