Peace, the Hebrew “shalom,” is where everything is in its proper place; where everything is in right relationship with every other thing. Peace prevails when we are in the place we belong, and others are at home as well. Peace is not just an absence of strife, but rather a positive state of well-being and belonging. You might say that a graveyard can be peaceful, but that’s not what “shalom” is all about. It certainly isn’t what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today.
The peace that Jesus shares with his disciples is a homecoming, a return to the people and the place of belonging. I hope you know the joys of returning home, and the sense of belonging that comes with it. Parents will know this blessed feeling of peace when all the children are home, when all have returned to the nest. Children, at least in my experience as a child, are less aware of that feeling, or perhaps just less willing to admit it. We say you can’t go home again, but that doesn’t mean the feeling of belonging isn’t real.
I can remember powerful dreams I’ve had, ones that have transported me back to familiar scenes, and into the presence of familiar people. Perhaps at the time I wasn’t aware of what these people and places represented for me, but now I know. After waking, though the image may have vanished, the feeling of peace remains.
“Peace” is what Jesus announces to the disciples in our Gospel, but the experience for them is not a dream, at least in the sense we use the word. Today we tune in on the evening of Easter Day, and then a week later, when the absent Thomas is once again with the rest of the disciples. Jesus, the disciples’ friend and master, crucified, dead, and buried, now appears to them alive. Thomas is doubtful when he hears the report: is it really Jesus? The proof that Thomas requires, that it isn’t all a dream, is the mark of the wounds of crucifixion.
Jesus Christ who stands before them is not a dream, a static memory given back to them in a sublime moment of remembering. The one who appears to them is not static but dynamic, the risen Lord. He bears the marks because he has experienced death and the grave, and overcome them. Jesus isn’t summoned up, a ghost from the past, but is alive now. The wounds are marks of reality, marks of continuity, disrupting any notion that the one the disciples see is simply a memory, simply a dream.
The greeting of peace is significant, in this context, because peace is restoration, a peace restored. It’s the homecoming that happens in spite of the fact that you can’t go home again! What lies between what was before and what comes after, the peace we seek, is the struggle, grief, and uncertainty that attends any traumatic event. For Jesus and the disciples, what lies between is crucifixion, death, and dispersal. After that, talk about a simple return to the status quo ante, to life before death, is meaningless. Resurrection does not, cannot, mean that. It must be something more.
The world’s problems are summed up in the events of Good Friday. The human dilemma that arises from our trauma is the reason we can’t just go home again. What we have instead is a struggle: for justice, love, truth. Also, grief: at defeat and the frustration of our hopes. Then again, uncertainty: at the meaning of grief and struggle for us and those we love. That’s where we find ourselves, with the disciples, this Eastertide.
Jesus’ greeting of peace lies beyond the trauma of Good Friday. It’s the homecoming that happens in spite of the fact that you can’t go home again. It’s the “something” more of resurrection. The peace that Jesus shares with the disciples is out of this world. It’s a form of healing and reconciliation that we can hardly imagine, but which our hearts long for. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” Jesus says earlier in John’s Gospel. “I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jo. 14:27).
This is the peace we share each time we celebrate the Eucharist. Confirmands: take note of the extraordinary peace that we share every time we gather. In this peace, everything is in its proper place; but also, upside down in terms the world understands. In this peace, after all, the lion lies down with the lamb (cf. Is. 11: 6-7; 65:25). In this peace, everything is in right relationship with everything else: not just neighbors but enemies as well (Matt. 5:45).
On the day of resurrection, Jesus is given back to the disciples, to those who ran away from the crucifixion. He gives to their battered consciences and their dashed hopes the peace which passes understanding. It’s a homecoming, a restoration and return. But note: Jesus is not the one coming home: we are. Jesus: not dead, but alive; welcoming us back to the place we belong.