The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C, Grace Chapel, Rossview

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you *(Jo. 14:27).

Easter is a season of fifty days, stretching from Easter Day all the way to Pentecost. We have fifty days to let Easter soak in; to learn the lessons of the season. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is big news; so big that it is difficult to take it all in on a single day. In fact, it’s impossible to process information like this all in one go, so the Church gives us fifty days to reflect.

The Gospel of John, from which we read in this season, gives us a number of words to reflect on: words which illustrate the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is part of the process of letting things soak in, of immersing ourselves in the paschal mystery of Christ’s dying and rising again. Words like “light” and “life,” “truth” and “joy,” “love” and “peace”: all of which point to the gift that Christ brings us by his death and resurrection. Easter is the time we’re given to grow in understanding of this gift in its various manifestations.

In our Gospel today, “peace” is the gift that Jesus gives us. Peace in the Old Testament is shalom, which we might define as the state which exists when everything is in right relationship with everything else, and with God above all. Disputes have been resolved and warfare has ceased; not an unfitting gift to remember on Memorial Day weekend. Shalom is tied up with the Old Testament idea of a “covenant” or a “pact” between peoples: when there has been a conflict it’s resolved by an agreement or covenant between the parties. It’s this covenant that brings peace.

Peace is also a function of authority. In Israel under the monarchy, the king was the one who established peace, the one who made peace. As it says of the king in Psalm 72, “In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more” (Ps. 72:7). This authority to make peace, of course, came from God: part of the reason that kings were chosen by God and anointed for this service. When Samuel anointed first Saul and then David to be king in Israel, it was an assertion of divine prerogative in both crowning and then unseating and replacing the king (1 Sam. 10 & 16). Years later, when the prophet Elisha anointed Hazael to be king in Damascus, God was asserting the right to establish peace even beyond Israel’s borders (2 Kgs. 8).

Covenant presumes dispute: this is why peace needs to be made. Human history is a record of dispute, a tribute to our need for peace. Our own times bear testimony to it. God’s covenant with Israel served in part to redress the rebellion of Adam and his descendants, and the conflict between human beings themselves so vividly illustrated today. Yet the kings and prophets of Israel had a limited range. Over time, the hope for earthly peace under an earthly king gradually morphed into an expectation that God would send a messiah, an anointed king, to establish peace for ever among all peoples.

When St. Paul writes, “[Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one” (Eph. 2:14), he’s letting us know that now in Christ Jesus all the nations of the earth are included in this peace. Our hope for peace is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the anointed one who makes peace through his cross (Col. 1:20) and who himself establishes peace.

This is the meaning of the peace that Jesus leaves with his disciples and with us in our Gospel today. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jo. 14:27). This peace is not like the peace that the world gives. This peace is not freedom from care, but assurance and hope in the face of the world. Later in this same discourse Jesus tells the disciples, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (Jo. 16:33). His resurrection, his victory over sin and death, is the source of our peace.            

Finally, note how the “peace” that Jesus gives is at the same time both a greeting and a farewell. In our Gospel today it is definitely “goodbye.” Jesus is taking his leave, before his crucifixion, and peace is the gift he leaves behind. Yet “peace” is also his greeting when he comes to his disciples after he is raised from the dead. “Peace be with you” (Jo. 20:19), he tells them. This is the greeting that the apostles take with them out into the world. It’s the greeting we’ll exchange ourselves in just a few minutes, the peace of the risen Lord. May we take this greeting with us and share it with others, in these fifty days of Eastertide and beyond.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee