Audio Version

John 20:19-23

Peace be with you. Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary had an unexpected encounter with the risen Jesus. Peter and John knew that something was going on, that the tomb was empty, but they left before Jesus eventually revealed himself to Mary. So, it was Mary who reported back to them that Jesus was alive—doing just as Jesus had told her. In this section we see Jesus himself now appear to his disciples in the evening of that very same day. Now the disciples get to see Jesus alive again.

When he appears to them, they’re hiding—still afraid of the ones who put Jesus to death in the first place. Meeting together in secret, hidden away, the doors are locked, because they don’t know who will be coming for them next. But, just as a tomb cannot hold the risen Jesus in, locked doors can’t keep Jesus out. As the disciples hid themselves away in fear, as they did everything in their power to prevent anyone from finding them, to prevent anyone from discovering them and reaching them, Jesus came to them—nothing could stop him, not death, not a tomb, not even locked doors. So, he comes to them and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? What is peace anyway? It’s a word that we throw around all the time. The world chases after “peace” but can never seem to find it. Maybe that’s because it’s usually not very well defined. Does peace mean an end to physical violence? Is it an end to oppression? Is it the freedom to speak your mind? Is peace a feeling of security and safety? Is it a matter of control? A matter of inner calm and serenity? Again, it sounds nice, but what is “peace” according to our world?

When you get right down to it, it seems to me that peace is the state of things being the way that I want them to be. That’s peace. At least, that’s peace according to the way the world operates. It means that my life and everyone else’s life all happen according to my terms. Peace means that I am the one in control and everything then happens the way I want. That way, I can rest assured that everything will be ok. Only then can I have inner calm. Regardless of the frustration and hurt that it might cause others, if I can create a safe situation for myself, then I am at peace.

Unfortunately, it seems that however you define it, the peace of one often causes frustration and trial or even harm for another. Peace for me doesn’t always mean peace for you. Peace on our terms has the potential of turning us into enemies with each other. Remember that those who put Jesus to death did so to maintain control, to maintain the status quo, to maintain peace on their terms so that Rome wouldn’t come after them. Additionally, one of the central ideas of the Roman Empire itself, as it occupied Judea along with other vassal states, was the pax romana—the peace of Rome. Bowing down to Rome meant there was peace. Peace on our own terms has the potential to be very dangerous. Our attempts at peace are even incresingly divisive.

So, again, peace be with you. Is that a blessing? Or is it a curse? In Jesus’ culture, it was a greeting—shalom la-chem. Peace be to you. It was a greeting with very ancient roots. And it was a blessing as well. We see it used back in the book of Judges. In Judges 6, Gideon is speaking to an angel. Beginning in Judges 6:22, the text states, “Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, The LORD Is Peace.” We see a similar blessing in 1 Sam 1:17. As Eli finds Hannah in a time of great turmoil and vexation, he tells her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”

So, what does it mean? Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) in Hebrew and eirene (εἰρήνη) in Greek, peace is completeness, soundness, welfare, harmony. Peace is not ego-centric. When Jesus greets his disciples with a blessing of peace, it’s on God’s terms. Only the Creator knows what’s best for us. Only he knows what makes us whole, what makes us complete. Only he truly knows what it is for his creation to exist in harmony, and through Jesus, he reveals it fully to us. Only God can truly define our peace, and it’s not always what we want.

Jesus brings us peace with God through his love and forgiveness. He’s the one who makes us whole, complete. John writes that after he approached them with this greeting of peace, Jesus showed them his wounds. He showed them his hands. He showed them the place where the Roman soldier pierced his side. When the disciples saw Jesus’ wounds, when they could confirm that this really was Jesus, they were overjoyed that they could now be in his presence again. And again, a second time, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.” And now he adds, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” That means that they will have to go out and face the world that they fear—a world, an empire, very confused in its quest for peace. It’s not safe for them, but they won’t be doing it alone.

When Jesus told them this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit just several days before at the Last Supper. Back in John 14, Jesus tells them that he would send the Holy Spirit as a helper to bring to mind all that Jesus had told them. Then he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Later, in John 16, he tells them, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

Jesus has indeed overcome the world, and now reality exists on his terms. He came to bring real peace. Jesus sends out his disciples with the Holy Spirit to be agents of the gospel—agents of God’s peace—as they bring God’s forgiveness to those around them. And he tells them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they have been forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it has been withheld.” What an incredible task.

This doesn’t mean the Christian community now has control. It means the Christian community now acts as agent of God’s rule and reign, in full submission to the will of God, declaring what God has already done. If you’re a part of the church, then you’re a steward of the Gospel, a reconciler, a steward of God’s peace. If someone repents, the Christian community forgives them—even if you don’t want to. If the Christian community withholds forgiveness, it better be because someone is unrepentant and not just because we’re being self-righteous and ego-centric. Otherwise, we’re not acting according to the Spirit of God.

Reconciliation with God and with each-other makes humanity complete. It makes us whole. It’s good for us. It’s the peace that Jesus brings to us. Who in your life could use the peace of Jesus Christ? Who in your life depends on you as their agent of reconciliation with God? Sometimes we overlook the fact that many people around us need the Spirit that Jesus has sent upon us, to be with us, to dwell within us, to lead us in communicating God’s love and his peace. It can be so tempting to vocalize the world’s different conceptions of peace. During those times of temptation, I encourage you to continually reflect on the peace that our God has brought to you. Peace be with you. Amen.

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