Image: “The Ascension of Christ” by Salvador Dali, 1958
by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
I was born in 1968 and growing up, “Peace” and the peace symbol were constant themes in my childhood. In those days, I understood peace to be the absence of war. War killed people, and that was bad. In some ways, it is what I still believe that “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
My simplistic understanding of war and peace is a simple dualistic argument: it is either/or, us and them, black and white. It is an understanding that doesn’t encompass the full scale of gray both to explain War and to explain Peace. Today, as we honor those we’ve lost during war times, we examine what Jesus’ meant when he called for peace. what did his vision look like? What did he mean by the word?
We begin with a song. Please turn in your hymnal to page 431, or many of you know this one. (sing)
“Sy Miller and Jill Jackson were a husband and wife songwriting team. In 1955 they wrote a song about their dream of peace for the world and how they believed each one of us could help create it…They first introduced the song to a group of teenagers selected from their high schools to attend a weeklong retreat in California. The young people were purposefully from different religious, racial, cultural and economic backgrounds, brought together to experiment with creating understanding and friendship through education, discussion groups, and living and working together in a camp situation. Sy Miller wrote in his own words what happened:… ’One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,’ helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.’ “ (1)
This is the image – a group of diverse teens in a circle singing about peace and committing to work for it… wow, that’s a image I think would agree with the image of Peace Jesus presents. So, let us consider the words of Jesus as he Ascended to Heaven, leaving the disciples with a final goodbye.
John14, beginning at verse 23:
Jesus answered him, ‘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.
Our passage begins by explaining how the movement will continue: people who show they love Jesus by keeping his word will be loved by God. God and Jesus will come and make their dwelling in those who love. With that the traditional second coming is also given a new twist: Jesus (and God) will come again to these kinds of people.
It is not surprising that the attention moves in verses 25-26 to the Spirit:
‘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.
The Spirit, which John calls the Advocate (the helper, the supporter, the guide) takes up the work in the absence of Jesus. Paul, too, had understood that the way Christ dwells in us is through the Spirit (see Romans 8:15-17). As Jesus is above all the helpful instructor and teacher, so the Spirit will also play that role. (2)
And before he leaves, Jesus gives us one last gift in verse 27:
“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.”
“To a room of people who are about to watch their leader and their teacher be brutally murdered by a violent empire, “peace” must sound so foreign. But this is what Jesus gives them. What on earth could it mean?” (Take Answers)
In our individualistic minds, “peace” often carries a deeply personalized meaning. I will be “at peace with myself.” That is well and good, but I don’t think that it’s what Jesus had in mind. The Greek word Jesus uses here, eirene, carries first and foremost the meaning of national tranquility, meaning a communal harmony: the absence from the rage and havoc of war, peace between people. This is Jesus’ parting gift, on the night before his execution. Peace.
Later, we are offered another glimmer of what this peace is like. Jesus tells his disciples, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In the face of the trouble this world gives us, Jesus assures us that we will have peace, and Jesus exhorts us to “take heart.” The verb he uses here is tharseo. Although “take heart” is a beautiful and poetic translation, the Greek would be more accurately rendered “have courage.”
Author Lindsey Popper explains:
“Because Jesus is establishing peace in this world, we can have courage, even in the face of everything the world is throwing at us.
When Jesus tells his disciples that he is giving them peace, he knows what the next days, weeks, months, and even millennia will look like to his followers. He knows that they will be days full of heartache and struggle and oppression and darkness and fear.
He offers peace to us not so that we can find shelter from the world. He offers us peace that we might be able to enter even more deeply into the world–that we would have the courage to live fully and boldly as his disciples, keeping his command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
When everything around the disciples is crumbling, Jesus has equipped us to keep our faith.
‘Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives–do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’
Jesus, on his way to the cross, says this: The world can kill you, and the world may kill you. Having lived a perfect life of love and justice, Jesus’ body was hung on a cross, because struggling for justice is dangerous, and because love is costly. There is good reason to be afraid, but Jesus says: Do not fear. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
What Jesus has given us is a deep peace that, however the world looks, we can be confident that love is stronger than hate, that hope is more resilient than fear and despair, and that light can and will and does break through the darkness. Brothers and sisters, we are Easter People–we are people of the empty tomb, people of the resurrection.”
Do not be afraid. Take heart. Have courage.
The peace given through the Holy Spirit allows us to live out the final commandment Jesus gives to his disciples: to love one another as he has loved us.” (3)
You see, WORLD peace begins with peace between PEOPLE. Individuals – you and me. It requires that we TRY to understand each other. It requires that when we are faced with conflict, we stop…. take a breath…. try to understand the other’s perspective. And whether we end up friends or not, peace between people is the key to being in the community of God.
“Peace I leave you.” Says Jesus. As Jesus departs from this world into the next, Jesus leaves us with this gift. May we, like the disciples long ago, be at peace with ourselves, be at peace in our communities and let us take heart and have courage.
Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with us. Amen.
- Jan-Lee Music found on http://www.jan-leemusic.com/Site/History.html
- William Loader, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkEaster6.htm
- “The Courage of the Easter People” by Lindsey Popper, found on http://day1.org/7160-the_courage_of_easter_people