Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

The Peace of Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

Easter Feria – April 17, 2007
the day following the tragedies at Virginia Tech University

John 14:23-29

Jesus said, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

In this last day we have witnessed the agony coming from students, family members, and friends at Virginia Tech University following yesterday’s massacre, the worst of its kind on our own shores.  We now, quite unwillingly and quite tragically, join so much of the world who witnesses a daily fare of tragic violence.  For us who call ourselves the followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, where is peace to be found amidst tragic suffering.

In this portion of John’s gospel which we’ve just heard, there is a flashback to that earlier scene in the Upper Room – what we call the Last Supper – when Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”i The disciples were very troubled.  They had just heard Jesus say he was to be betrayed, and worse: the betrayal would be by one of their own number.  And then Jesus said that he would leave them.  What they hear, in this context, is that Jesus is abandoning them.  Not true.  What they will only later realize is how Jesus is leaving them.  He’s not leaving them alone or bereft; rather, he’s leaving them with a gift: “I leave you… the gift of peace.”  And then Jesus makes a subtle but very important qualification, which we hear in the portion of John’s gospel appointed for this evening:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you [peace] as the world gives.”
The world, in Jesus’ day, gave peace coming and going, quite literally.

Peace was commonly used in Jesus’ time as a word of greeting or of farewell.ii “Peace.”  We hear this even today: “Peace,” “Shalom,” “Salaam.”  It’s a kind of gracious salutation – “Peace to you….”  That kind of peace-bidding expresses a desire.  It’s not unlike someone’s simply saying, as they prepare to leave us, “Good bye,” which is shorthand for “God be with you.”  “Good bye.”  “Peace be with you.”  It’s a desire, a good desire, but it’s only a desire.  And yet Jesus is talking here, not just about a desire but a gift.  “Peace I give you; my own peace I leave with you… not as the world gives peace”

“Peace as the world gives” is dependent upon outward circumstances.  It was then, and is now.  When we read on the front pages of our newspaper that there is a call for peace in Jerusalem, or Baghdad, or Kabul, or Port au Prince, or on our university campuses, or over the airwaves – a peace informed perhaps by a curfew or dialogue or meditation going on within a government or political party or sect or administration  – or when we hear of peace on a picket line or between labor and management, or within a congregation, or family, or institution, that kind of peace is marked by the absence of conflict.  It’s some­thing not being present.  It’s the absence of strife or bloodshed or harassment….  Likewise, in Jesus’ own day for the Greeks, peace was essentially experienced in this neg­ative form.  Peace was the absence of war or strife.  But for the Jews, it was not the absence of something but rather the presence of something.  Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” i.e., “don’t be anxious or cowering.”  “There’s going to be trouble, but don’t be trou­bled,” Jesus is saying.  “I am leaving you… but leaving you with a gift.  And the gift is peace.”  And the peace will be mediated by what Jesus calls “the Spirit” who is with us.

Curiously, Jesus’ peace had (has) little to do with the absence of outward conflict.  In Jesus’ own day, the surrounding atmosphere was one of hatred and rejection, where there was every prospect that Jesus’ own followers would meet a similar death that Jesus himself anticipated.  That is the context in which Jesus gives his gift of peace: peace within, even when there is no peace without.  More than a century ago, the founder of our community, Richard Meux Benson, wrote about Christ’s gift of peace that “if we would have [this gift of peace], we must receive it as… [Jesus] has promised it.  We know that it is not an accidental, transitory peace.  It is a permanent state of security for which he has been training us….”iii What Jesus is talking about here is not making peace but first, receiving peace.  The gift of peace.  Or, at least I would call this Jesus’ offer of peace.  A gift only becomes a gift when the recipient receives it.  I could say to you, I have something for you, this book.  I present it to you.  It’s for you.  It’s a gift.   But it actually only becomes a gift when you take it, when you take hold of it, when you receive it.  Gifts require reception to become gifts, otherwise they’re simply offers or prospects or promises… or teases.  Gifts require their reception to actually become gifts.

And so I would say that this offer of Christ’s peace, this promise of Christ’s peace, is here for the having.  It’s meant to be a gift.  And so our prayer for this peace that Christ offers is a prayer of reception.  That we have the grace to receive this peace that Christ offers.  To take it in, as regularly and necessarily as we breathe.  Drawing on Christ’s gift of peace requires such attentiveness because there is so much that can take our breath away, so much that can distract us, or bind us, or hold us hostage.  (That can certainly be true for me, perhaps also for you).  What would help you retain an awareness of Christ’s offer of this gift of peace?

  1. It might have to do with how you start your day, as you awaken to the dawn of new life which God has given you for yet one more day (perhaps as much as one more day).  Some prayer, perhaps some very simple prayer that invites Christ’s peace to inform you and infill you as you awaken to the new day.  A prayer for you to breathe as you work, or as you wonder how you can ever make it through the day:
    1. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out fear.
    2. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out fear.
    3. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out fear.

    1. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out despair.
    2. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out despair.
    3. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out despair.
    1. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out revenge.
    2. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out revenge.
    3. to breathe in Christ’s gift of peace and to breathe out revenge.

  1. For you to receive as gift Christ’s offer of peace might have to do with some movement of your body, some way that you walk, some way that you gesture or use your hands; something you do with you body.  Maybe a bowing, a pacing, a posturing.  Perhaps there is some practice to attend to when you are alone.  Maybe an exercise like tai chi or yoga.
  1. For you to receive as gift Christ’s offer of peace might have to do with some prayer you take to memory and heart.  Perhaps the “Serenity Prayer” given to us by the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;  and wisdom to know the difference..” iv
  2. Praying the ancient “Jesus Prayer” may be a great help.  The “Jesus Prayer,” a con­tinual calling upon the name of Jesus with the lips and in the heart, while forming a mental pic­ture of Jesus’ con­stant pres­ence, and im­plor­ing his grace at all times, in all places, even dur­ing your sleep. The Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.’

‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.’
‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.’ v

  1. There may be a calming, centering phrase from the Scriptures, especially from the Psalms, that is a reminding mantra for you about Christ’s gift of peace, such as:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want. 23:1

Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths. 25:3

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall ever be in my mouth. 34:1

As the deer longs for the waterbrooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God. 42:1

For God alone my soul in silence waits;

from him comes my salvation. 62:1

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name. 103:1

  1. What would help you receive and retain Christ’s gift of peace amidst these very troubling times?  You may find real grace in drawing on the gift of your senses.  Perhaps an icon or other image on which to gaze in your home or at your work.  Perhaps something to touch.  I’m suggesting here everything from your fingering prayer beads, or a hand cross, or a spiritual medallion to your receiving touch through therapeutic massage.  Drawing on the gift of your senses.  Perhaps by the gift of smell from beautiful flower.  (Would that be a helpful practice for you: fresh flowers or a plant for you to see and smell and touch?)  Perhaps some other inviting aroma that fills your lungs and soul, perhaps from incense or baking bread or stewing fruit?   For you, perhaps it’s to receive and retain Christ’s gift of peace through music: an inspiring or orienting line of rhythm, a cadence, a crescendo and decrescendo; the rests.  Your deep listening to music.  The harmonies, tempos, resolutions may create the portal in your soul to receive Christ’s gift of peace.
  1. You may find real grace in some kind shared practice of serenity – maybe a 12-step program or a group that listens to you and supports and understands and cherishes you because of some profound, perhaps private thing that the group holds in common.  And this kind of sharing helps you stay aware and open to the ultimate power and provision of Christ’s gift of peace.

  1. And lastly, you may need to make peace with yourself.  If the truth be known, you actually are your own worst enemy some days, and you hate that part of yourself.  And the two of you – that part of you that knows better and that part of you that behaves worse – need to get on speaking terms with one another.  You need a truce.  You may need the intervention of Christ’s gift of peace to break down that dividing wall of hostility within yourself.vi Receive that gift of peace… because we love others the way we love ourselves.  Receive the gift of Christ’s peace.

I’m not talking here about making peace.  There is plenty of peace that needs to be made all around our world and on our streets and campuses and over the airwaves.  That is undeniable.  But “peace receiving” precedes “peace making.”  I’m talking here about our being peace-receivers, receiving Christ’s peace, our practicing a posture of reception of peace… which can change your day, and ultimately change our world.  Receive the peace of Jesus.  Receive the peace of Jesus.  Receive the peace of Jesus.  Receive the peace of Jesus.vii

___________________

i John 14:1.

ii John 20:19, 21, 26.

iii Richard Meux Benson inThe Final Passover, vol. II (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.), 1895; p. 329.

iv Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a Protestant theologian, pastor, a prolific author, best known for his theological insights in the context of politics and diplomacy.  The full text of the “Serenity Prayer” reads:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as [Jesus] did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.  Amen.

v The “Jesus Prayer,” from The Way of the Pilgrim, dating to the 1850s; Irkutsk, Russia.

vi This is reading Ephesians 2:14-17 “autobiographically”: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,  and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near….”

vii This prayer for peace, translated into more than forty languages, is now being used by many all around the world:
Lead me from death to Life,
from falsehood to Truth.
Lead me from despair to Hope
from fear to Trust.
Lead me from hate to Love,
from war to Peace.
Let Peace fill our hearts,
our world, our universe.

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