Peace is illusive.
We often define peace as the absence of conflict. Yet ongoing conflict seems to have the upper hand in our world. We believe it will defeat us.
We try to achieve peace through violence. To defeat our enemies often costs us dearly. We remember and honor our war dead. Sometimes we remember the other side’s too. Innocent lives are lost in the crossfire. Lasting peace continues because we have hit our opponents hard enough that they will not come back…
…at least not for a while.
We define peace as acceptance. We may not like the way things are in the world or the way someone has treated us. We make peace with it by acknowledging the pain, carrying it as long as we must and somehow deciding that in order to live we cannot allow that pain to define us. We carry within us the scars of this peace.
We define peace as death. Sometimes we say things like “they are at peace now” after someone’s life has ended after a struggle. They are no longer breathing. Life is gone. There is something final to this kind of peace. “Rest in peace,” we say. Peace in their absence becomes grief to work through for us.
We define peace as tranquility. We seek peace in serene environments in the natural world: where the conditions are perfect, the breeze is gentle, the sun is warm, and people leave us alone.
We define peace as projecting calm. Those who can handle the pressure of tense circumstance, the heightened anxiety in others, the fear creeping up in themselves in the midst of turmoil overcome the intensity of a situation by remaining calm and drawing others into the focus required to overcome threats with poise and confidence.
We define peace as reconciliation. Two people come together after being in conflict. Feelings were hurt. Lives were broken. Actions have consequences. Offering contrition and responding with forgiveness destroys the power of separation with an embrace. Life is renewed, but things will never be perfect. There is still much to struggle through together. We have memories. But peace breaks into those lives, when the one with the power does not punish the other but welcomes them home. Our sharing of the peace in church is supposed to mimic this act of restorative love among us.
Jesus offers peace. But what kind?
Jesus becomes the embodiment of conflict and violence at the cross; exposing how fruitless violence is. He confronts power by declaring it powerless, “my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36) and declares “the ruler of this world has no power over me” (John 14:30). He is our peace; bringing us together into one restored humanity (Ephesians 2:14).
Jesus does not retaliate or raise the sword. Violence begets violence. Only the path of non-violence has the potential to break the cycle. The Pax Romana – peace through power, bloodshed and terror is exposed as no peace at all.
Jesus is a peace-maker; by not accepting the world as it is. He often creates conflict directed at him and his followers by healing on the sabbath, touching the unclean, eating with sinners, talking with gentiles and women, treating both the oppressed and the oppressors with dignity and respect, and teaching about a kingdom that often confounds his hearers assumptions by flipping their expectation about God, community and the world upside-down.
Jesus destroys the power of death at Easter. This “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) re-orders our world, so that God holds our future no matter what circumstances we face; even the dire ones.
Jesus often went off alone to quiet places to pray; but always in order to re-engage the world around him. We often get caught in escapism so we don’t have to deal with others. Jesus embodies a peace that is grounded in purpose for the sake of serving others.
Jesus calls us into the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). It is not just a matter of making amends for wrongdoing, but restoring our broken humanity as ambassadors to what Christ has done to destroy sin by becoming sin so that all things are made new n him and through him.
Jesus reminds his disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate is coming. They will not be on their own, but God will see them through whatever is coming next. In their story, his passion is about to unfold. In our story, the future is unknown. Fear can be a real power in our lives. Jesus reminds them not to be afraid, but to trust the peace that he gives.
Sharing this peace, Jesus calls them to get up, and get on with it (John 14:31).
We should too.
-How have you defined peace?
-Where do you see Jesus’ peace that surpasses understanding?
-What makes you afraid of trusting that peace?