The word used in the original Greek New Testament is “eirhnh” (érené), from which the name Irene comes. Even so, Jesus being a Hebrew, would probably have used the word “Shalom”. For the people of Israel, this is not just what we understand by peace, which is probably tranquillity or an end to war. It has a wider meaning of wholeness or completeness and it would also be used as a greeting for “hello” and “goodbye”. Jesus is bestowing a peace upon his disciples such as the world cannot give – a peace that would bring wholeness of spirit and bind together a scarred, divided and fearful community.
Our peace has been disturbed over the past year or more. As individuals and as a society we have been thrown into unfamiliar circumstances. Some of the comforts we usually enjoy, such as social contact, sitting in a café, going to a football match, relaxed and lively worship – all these things have been suspended. In times like this the world can seem an unfamiliar and disturbing place. Perhaps we can feel at least a certain identification with the disciples who could no longer go about freely, whose lives were in danger and whose hope had been shattered. It seemed that getting to know Jesus had not brought them in the end to a place of peace.
But now they meet Jesus again and he breathes upon them the Holy Spirit, the bringer of peace and unity – the Spirit of courage - inspiring enthusiasm and a sense of belonging. The life Jesus lived on earth was not really filled with the kind of peace that we would normally recognise. He was frequently in conflict with the religious authorities and his life ended in dreadful violence and suffering. His followers were scattered and afraid. But through all of this, Jesus maintained an inner peace that could only come about through deep communion with the Father. The peace of God really is a peace that the world cannot give. As Rowan Williams writes in his book “The Truce of God”:
“He is ‘at peace’ with the Father because he is aware that nothing can sever his anchorage in this root of his existence.”
Jesus is anchored in that relationship of true and perfect peace and wants us to share in it. Just as no worldly events or powers could uproot Jesus from that relationship of peace, if we ourselves put down our own anchor in that place, the waves cannot overwhelm us. We may not see Jesus in the way that Thomas and the other disciples did, but we can recognise the presence of Jesus through our worship and in our relationships. In Holy Communion we participate in the sharing of the Body of Christ, who stands among us and speaks to our heart: “Peace be with you.” Yes, happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.
One of my favourite prayers is the second collect for evening prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like to share it with you now:
O GOD, from whom all holy desires,
all good counsels, and all just works do proceed;
Give unto thy servants that peace
which the world cannot give;
that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments,
and also that by thee, we,
being defended from the fear of our enemies,
may pass our time in rest and quietness;
through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Jesus came and stood among his disciples and he stands among us now, saying: “Peace be with you”.
The next service is on Sunday 18th April at 9.30am.