Peace be with you

2nd Sunday of Easter
Cycle B
12 April 2015
John 20:19-31
By Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Of all the ways Jesus could have greeted the apostles on that first day of the week, he chose four simple words: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). It can be very easy to just gloss over this greeting, but Christ is not only wishing them a material “well-being”, he is also giving the Apostles a spiritual “well-being”. Remember, Jesus had just risen from the dead. He had just fulfilled God’s centuries-long plan of salvation, and opened heaven for all who believe. Now the time had come to reveal himself to his closest friends.

It was time to reveal their salvation and the miracle of the resurrection. So wouldn’t you think he would say something far more important to mark this crucial moment? But he didn’t. He chose instead to offer an informal, everyday greeting; a greeting nevertheless that captures the heart of the Easter message. .

The apostles were not in the most peaceful state of mind when Easter Sunday dawned. Not only had they seen Jesus arrested and been told of the crucifixion, but they also experienced their own weakness and lack of faith. Rather than hold on to Jesus’ promise that he would rise again, they gave in to fear and doubt.

By all accounts, they had failed Him; but when Jesus appeared, he didn’t bring up the painful, embarrassing events of the past few days. He didn’t even mention them! Instead, he just wished them peace.

Peace be with you. SHALOM!

This word reminds us of words of a similar ilk that Jesus spoke to men and women in various Gospel stories. For example the woman caught in adultery. When all her accusers had walked away, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.

Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” In these stories, Jesus’ main goal was to show that he did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17). He didn’t want a relationship marked by vengeance, retribution, or anger. All he wanted was for us to experience His mercy and be at peace with him.

What do the words “Peace be with you” say to us? No matter how many times we sin, no matter how grievous our offenses are, God stands ready to forgive us and release us from guilt. He does this so that we can experience the peace that comes from being reconciled with him; allowing ourselves to be at peace with ourselves and at peace with each other.

The peace that comes from Jesus is not the same as the peace of this world (John 14:27). At the last supper a few days before; Jesus says; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The world’s peace depends on favorable circumstances: our getting our way, things going as expected, with maybe a few manageable problems.

That sounds nice, but as soon as things go awry, this type of peace tends to dissipate, leaving us anxious and fretful. By contrast, the peace that Jesus brings, helps us face troubling circumstances without becoming swallowed up by anxiety or anger or fear.

It brings a quiet confidence to our hearts that guides us as we face challenging decisions. It’s a peace that depends not on the events of our day but on the boundless love of the Lord: A peace that says; “I belong to Christ, and I know that he will never abandon me!”

None of us will be perfect disciples. There may be days in a row when we disappoint Jesus or someone close to us. But we are so much more than the sum of our mistakes and failings. We are more than the sum of our successes and breakthroughs.

We are beloved of God, chosen and destined for heaven. Jesus isn’t interested in reviewing all of our past sins. He isn’t interested in questioning all of our current motivations.

All he wants to do is point us to the love that we already have for him, and we’ll find our way to peace in our hearts. And the more peaceful we are with ourselves, the easier it will be to follow Jesus and fulfill his calling for us. What about being at peace with each other? Jesus’ gift of peace is meant to spill over into our relationships with each other.

Immediately after saying to the Apostles for a second time, “Peace be with you,” Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus is sending us out spiritually; asking us to treat each other with the same mercy and love that he has shown us.

It’s a mercy that pulls down dividing walls of hostility, unforgiveness, and prejudice (Ephesians 2:14). It’s a love that empowers us to love each other deeply and be at peace with one another. Loving each other and forgiving each other is perhaps the most challenging aspect of our life as Christians. We know how difficult it is to love without conditions and stipulations. We know how difficult it is to forgive someone who has hurt us. Our natural response is to lash out in anger, sink into guilt, or shrink back in resentment.

The only way we can overcome these patterns is to do as Paul says; “let the peace of Christ” control our hearts (Colossians 3:15). If we can imagine what Peter and the others felt when Jesus stood before them, offering them unconditional forgiveness and endless friendship, we’ll find our hearts softening. If we can imagine ourselves in their place, knowing that Jesus tells us, “Neither do I condemn you,” we’ll find the grace to do the same with each other.

If we can dedicate ourselves to living in love and mercy, we’ll find ourselves more united with our friends, family members, and neighbors. We’ll even find ourselves becoming more peaceful around the people who trouble us! The powerful and the poor, and everyone in between.

Throughout his life, Jesus worked tirelessly to remove the obstacles that keep us from knowing peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace with each other.

Then on Easter Sunday, he announced that the promise had been fulfilled. Every obstacle to peace has been removed! Now Jesus stands before us as a forgiving Savior, not as a vengeful judge. He stands before us offering us his peace.

“Shalom.

Let his words sink into our hearts. Let the truth behind them find a home in us. “Peace Be with You.” is so much more than a pleasant greeting. It’s a promise and a gift from almighty God!

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