Never Alone

jesus_hugs_in_heaven6th Sunday of Easter

John 14:15-21

Calm Soul of all things! Make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar,
That there abides a peace of Thine
Man did not make, and cannot mar!

 [from Lines Written in Kensington Gardens, Matthew Arnold]

 It is an elusive gift, Peace.  One day we pick up the paper—The Russians and the Ukrainians are at it again.  The next day we pick up the paper—and it’s another school shooting.  A third day’s paper—it’s a violent storm, a massive flood or something yet again.  And we wonder about peace.

Then the blame starts.  It’s the Russians.  It’s the Ukrainians.  It’s NATO.  It’s history.  Who’s at fault?  It’s the parents fault.  It’s the NRA.  It’s media violence.  It’s the kids.  And we wonder about peace.

Then the advice begins.  More discipline.  Better marriages.  Fewer guns.  Turn off the TV.  Send in more troops.  Drop more bombs.  Talk.  Let ‘em settle it themselves.  And we wonder about peace.

Meanwhile, on Memorial Day 2014, women weep for their children in Ukraine and in the United States and in homes anywhere around the world.  And we wonder about peace.

“Peace,” Jesus says.  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”  Peace!  Jesus speaks of peace.  But He does not speak of peace as we have become accustomed to speak of peace.  For us peace in Ukraine would mean an end of political violence, the end of military posturing.  Because peace is the opposite of war.    Peace in our schools would mean the end of students carrying guns to intimidate and to protect; the end of cliques, of outsiders and insiders; the end of prejudice about skin and clothes and music and more.  Because peace is the opposite of conflict.

Peace is no sudden storm that flattens homes, no floods that sweep away lives, no earthquakes that swallow up human endeavors.  Peace is the opposite of destruction.

So concerned are we that peace is the absence of war and conflict and destruction, and so equally concerned are we that there will never be an absence of such things, we turn instead to the peace of isolation.  If we don’t watch the news we might have some peace.  If we don’t get involved in our community we might have some peace.  If we ignore the difficult person, avoid the busy body, shut out the troublesome, tune out the whiner, wall ourselves off from every outside source, then…then maybe we’ll find peace.  Peace…as the world gives it.  Ah…but the world aims for peace but only gets anesthesia.

Jesus, however, does not give as the world gives.  Therefore the peace of Jesus is not the world’s peace.  It is not peace as the absence of war.  It is not the peace of detached ambivalence, “Whatever!”  It is not the peace of death—Requiescat in pacem.  It is, as He says, My peace.”

      My peace, as Jesus calls it, transcends the understanding and experience of the world.  My peace, as Jesus calls it, transcends the world’s peace because Jesus’ peace is the peace of the cross and the resurrection.  It is a peace that is given not by escaping death, nor by embracing death.  It is a peace which comes by death swallowed up in death.  Easter!

And the world can’t explain that.  Can’t understand that!  The world certainly can’t duplicate that.  The world cannot comprehend that there is joy in the cross, because in the cross, there is peace in the midst of suffering, peace in the midst of conflict, peace in the midst of death.  Makes no sense to the world!

What the world can neither create nor understand, Jesus gives.  Peace.  My peace.  And it is the person of faith who seizes such  gift.  Faith, that is, trust in the Giver of such a gift; faith, that is, trust, in the One crucified and risen again; faith alone knows such peace.

What does such peace of Christ give?  For the person of faith there is the calm and quieting experience that comes over one’s heart in the midst of trouble.  Calm, not because war has ceased, but calm in the midst of war.  This peace gives the person of faith that stillness of spirit—not only when tragedy and misfortune are avoided, but especially in the experience of tragic misfortune.

Enemies, sicknesses, poverty, destruction, war—it’s all there for the Christian too.  And yet the person of Christian faith has the gift of peace because the Giver of peace is there.  We have seen Him there on His cross; seen Him die, yet live.

“Do not be afraid,” He says.  “Thou wilt keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

For this, Jesus pronounces His famous benediction: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”  Peacemakers—not simply because they have signed piece of paper that ends war for a couple years only to break out gain.  Peacemakers—not simply because they carry enough clout to keep the squabblers in line, until they pass from the scene.  Peacemakers—not because they are so detached from fellow human beings that nothing disrupts their cosmic equilibrium.  But rather, peacemakers, as The Son of God is The peacemaker; namely, by the ministry of the Word of God.

You see, when the Word of God is preached and taught and heard and pondered, there faith is born and grows.  Where faith is born and grows there Christ bestows His peace.  Thus to know Christ and to make Him known is the ministry of real, lasting peace.

And where the faithful in Christ hear His Word and grow in this faith by hearing, the fruit of Christ’s peace flows out into the world.  For what person listening intently to the Word of Christ can continue to insist on the way of “I”?  I want, I say, I demand, I insist.  Who, growing in faith and the peace of Christ by means of the preached Word will continue to demand “My way, my need, my choice.”  When the Christian finds his or her life wrapped up in Christ’s life—dead to self, alive to Him—why then the source of conflict, the seeds of war, the cause of violence, the old sinful self, is taken captive in Christ.  There is peace.  In us, with us…and through us into the world.  Where Christ is heard in ear and mind and heart and soul, there is His Word of peace!

For the world, peace remains an elusive gift indeed.  The Christian knows peace because the Christian knows Christ.  What an incredible gift this peace is!  It’s not escapism.  Not avoidance.  Not denial of the reality of the world.  A peace that comes in knowing Christ—the crucified Christ, the risen Christ—a peace transcending all understanding.

Let us, then, be found in Him.  To know His Word because we listen—often and closely.  To know His cross and resurrection.  Oh, to be found in Christ ourselves, and to find in Him this no longer elusive gift of peace!