Christ’s Gift of Peace
“While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’”
Earlier in the week as I began preparing for this sermon, I spent a good deal of time meditating on Luke 24.36-48 and on the gift of peace our Risen Lord offers to us. I thought about it. Prayed about it. I even had the outline of the sermon all worked out, only to realize that Jesus’ words, “Peace to you,” are not actually included in the lectionary text selection for the day.
Upon further investigation, that reading from St. Luke is one of those peculiar passages that evidence discrepancies in ancient manuscripts. Most translations include the phrase, “Peace be to you.” But some leave it out.
I had been working out of the Orthodox Study Bible, which uses the New King James Version for the New Testament, and includes Jesus’ greeting of peace.
And indeed most translations do. Even my version of the RSV at home includes it. But others of that same translation do not.
So today’s sermon is the sermon on the phantom gospel!
Not really. We know that Our Risen Lord greeted his disciples on several occasions with the words, “Peace be with you.”
And even if some ancient manuscripts omit Jesus’ greeting of peace from St. Luke, it is clear from the condition of the disciples that they — like each one of us – are in great need of God’s peace. We are told that they are, “startled, frightened, troubled, with questions rising in their hearts.”
They need peace. We all need peace. And Jesus is that peace.
Peace – A Definition
Peace is a very important, comprehensive, and essential quality of human life.
But what is it? If we trace the meaning of the word peace it will take us back to the Hebrew word Shalom.
At the heart of Shalom was the idea of completeness – that is actually the overarching definition – completeness. Which includes safety and soundness of body; welfare, health, and prosperity; quiet, tranquility, contentment; and completeness in terms of relationships – relationships between humans, and between humanity and God. The word Shalom embodies all these ideas.
One way to better understand a concept is by examining its opposites. The opposite of Shalom then, would be incompleteness. It would include, danger, sickness, adversity, confusion, chaos, disorder, anxiety, fear, and broken relationships between humans, and between humanity and God. Separation, isolation, and loneliness, all these are opposites of Peace.
There may be differences of opinion on how one achieves peace, but there can be little question that it is a near universal pursuit for all of humanity.
And so it is a great irony that what we often think will bring us true peace, in reality actually distances us from it. Much of what is so tempting about sin is it’s illusive promises of peace.
In our desire to find peace, to feel good, and to be happy, our sinful choices actually drive us in the opposite direction – further away from true and lasting peace. We feel bad. We are unhappy. We grow deeper in our discontent, and loneliness.
If we get right down to it, sin leaves us incomplete. It separates us from one another, and from God. It ultimately leads to death. So really in a sense, Death is the ultimate opposite of peace.
Our Lord’s Gift of Peace
All of which brings us to Our Lord’s most loving gift of peace. His message and gift of peace has been consistent from the very beginning.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied the coming Messiah saying, “his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
When Jesus was born, the heavenly hosts rejoiced singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace among men with whom he is pleased.”
At his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the crowds rejoiced saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
However, Jesus when he drew near and saw the city wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.”
They did not understand the path to true peace. He knew the price that reconciliation and unity and completeness — the price real peace costs.
As St. Paul writes, Jesus reconciled all things to himself, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Before his own death, Jesus tells his disciples, “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.”
The peace of Christ, won for us by his death and resurrection, is not the peace that the world gives. It is not a fleeting peace, that strikes for a brief moment a single chord of emotional satisfaction or physical pleasure, only to leave our spirits that much more dissatisfied, unfulfilled, alone, and incomplete.
The peace that the Risen Christ has won for us, and freely offers to us, is the peace of perfect reconciliation with one another and with God.
St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, speaks directly to our Lord’s work of reconciliation and peace on the cross. He says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, (he’s talking here about divided humanity), and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, (my own words here, “you are no longer isolated, alone, incomplete, slaves to sin and death), but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
By his incarnation, Our Lord brought all of humanity together again within himself – we are united with one another through the unity of the Holy Spirit, through Christ’s mystical body the Church. And through his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, he reconciled all of humanity back to God the Father.
In the Risen Christ, we are reconciled to one another and to God – in him we are complete, and made whole, in every sense of the world. This is the gift of peace Our Lord offers to us.
This is why we confess our sins against God and our neighbor before communion with Our Lord. Through him our sins are forgiven, our broken relationships are restored, and we are filled with the peace of God which passes all understanding.
This is why we greet one another with the peace of the Lord after we confess our sins. And why we commend Christ’s peace – not to our minds and bodies – but to our spirits.
Like the disciples gathered together behind closed doors in the upper room, the Risen Christ comes to us in the midst of every community gathered together in his name, and he offers us his gift of everlasting peace.
Let us receive this peace with open hearts. And in Christ, be reconciled to one another, and to God.
The Peace of the Lord be always with you.