The Peace of God with us
Sometimes I crave peace. And by peace, I mean a moment of silence, when I can hear myself think and feel my body breathe, without high volume rambunctious children and excitable dogs swarming around me.
Or I mean universal relief, a deep and painful yearning for a break in the endless suffering and violence, just a breath in and out when the world doesn’t feel like its heading straight to hell in a handbasket.
Or by peace I mean a personal pause, when the many and delicately balanced plates I am spinning all at once as I run about juggling responsibilities and obligations don’t seem about to come crashing down on my head.
I crave the peace of a fantastically good night sleep, waking up completely refreshed without a care in the world for the first few delicious moments before the day dawns new.
I do things to try to make peace happen. Some of these things are more effective than others.
I drink chamomile tea before bed and jot down worries and tasks on a notepad so I don’t have to hang onto them in case I forget.
I answer tense emails and phone calls immediately so I don’t have to sit in the discomfort of minor conflict or unpleasant duty one second longer than necessary.
I send checks and sign petitions, and I beg God for mercy, and shut off the news and call my sister to vent.
I lift my head into the swirling chaos of my house and I scream, “Everybody stop screaming!” And when I’m lucky enough to have it, I cling fiercely to the fragile stability of a temporary lack of dread - terrified, if I am honest, that it will slip from my fingers: Thank God for no medical news hovering at the moment, nobody in my family in any serious trouble, the demons of loss and pain momentarily held at bay.
So when I hear Jesus say, Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, every fiber of my being says, Yes, please.
In this Easter season, in this time of “I have seen the Lord” – where we share resurrection stories, encounter stories, stories of having seen God, today we ponder what it means to see God in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Peace.
Sitting, as we are, on the threshold of Pentecost, today we’re looking back with the disciples at what Jesus said to them before his death, before everything changed, before it was all lost and then found again, taken away and then given back new, different, mysterious and ungraspable. Back before Mary heard the voice of the risen Jesus and Thomas touched the side of the risen Jesus and Peter tasted grilled fish and forgiveness and the risen Jesus set him free sent him out and to feed his sheep.
When Jesus tells them these things, first that he is going to die, that one of them will betray him, that Peter will deny him, that he has always loved them, that loving one another as he has loved them is his commandment, his word to them, and that one day the Father will come home and dwell with them and this Spirit Advocate thingy is coming and peace he gives to them...he knows they aren’t getting what he is saying. But he goes on saying it anyway – He is hoping that if he says it enough and emphasizes what he is saying that after he is gone they will remember what he said and begin to grasp its meaning eventually. This is Jesus’ goodbye and they have yet to realize it fully.
Here he sits, the Creator of all, alongside and within the creation he loves, knowing his time with them in this way is going to end, even if these he loves do not. He is God-with-us, about to leave us, about to be killed by us, to be separated from all that God loves by taking on all that separates us from God.
This “farewell discourse,” as it is known, this speech of Jesus to his disciples in John, goes on for four chapters. Jesus can’t seem to bring himself to be succinct, and I can’t blame him; he knows this is it – and he keeps emphasizing that he is from the Father and that they are brought into the love of the Father to the Son, that to follow him means to abide in that love, to remain in that love, to cling to that vine and let the love that flows through them produce the fruit in their lives, bless the world through them – even this world that wont understand what it’s seeing, and he says it a lot and in different ways and repeats himself again and again.
And I imagine eyelids drooping, concentration waning and perhaps snapping back in now and then, like when he suddenly says something really clear and simple, like peace I leave with you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Or something really confusing and obscure, like the Father will send you the Spirit, the Advocate, which means, the One who comes alongside, the comforter, and this One will keep teaching you and reminding you of what I have said. Huh?
But still Jesus talks, insistent, pained, passionate. And it seems so counterintuitive and unfathomable that the Word that was in the beginning speaking the world into being which is finally in the world, dwelling among, abiding with, is about to leave them so violently.
After he died they must have sat around rehashing all that he had said, picking it apart, trying to remember what words he used, how he emphasized them, what he must have meant. He prayed for them too – lifted them up to God right in front of them – you’ll hear a bit of that prayer next week, God, these that I have loved, you love, bring them into our love. And they must have sat there recalling it all, in anguish and turmoil and confusion, stewing in fear and dwelling all that is the very opposite of peace, wondering what it all meant, and if they’d ever feel ok again.
But God’s reunion plan is still in full swing. And this is part of what Jesus is trying to tell them. Remember we discovered on our journey through the Old Testament that no matter what happens, God isn’t going to let go?
First the God of love acts for the world as Creator, walking in the garden in the cool of the evening with Adam and Eve, and when sin separated God from the beloved creatures God had made, God’s action kept going, adapting strategy, relentlessly pursuing, endlessly wooing, eventually choosing one man, Abraham, then a family, and then a nation, to bless the world and love the world, then kings and prophets are pulled in and finally the God of love acts by coming into the world in the flesh, this time as a helpless earth creature too, to share life with us, and take on all our pain and suffering, to heal and point to hope and live out love alongside us, and then to die just as we all must do, but breaking death’s eternal chokehold and promising life everlasting.
This God of love isn’t finished. Not ever. And God didn’t pause everything after Jesus. Or distance Godself until the very end. God continues acting.
God is still here, abiding with us, standing by us, filling us each moment with breath and life, moving the world toward love and redemption. This is what Jesus is trying to tell them. Jesus is exiting the scene, but the Holy Spirit is coming. The God of love within and between and around us, the Spirit of the love of the Father to the Son, the very energy of connection and intimacy, the fabric and stuff of abiding, the “with us” part of “God with us” is with us now, as we are with each other, connecting us into the love of God, and sustaining us until the day when God will come again in fullness and flesh and wipe every tear from our eye and live here forever in God’s eternal home and life will be as it was meant to be.
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid.
My peace, Jesus says. The peace I have. The connection and relationship that sustains me, this peace now sustains you. You are drawn into the source of my peace: the abiding love of the Divine relationship.
Not as the world gives. Not relief from the clamor, fleeting and temporary, not a pause in the conflict, striven for and fought over, not a reprieve from internal terror, shaky and shallow. But real peace. The Peace of God with us.
Through Jesus Christ we are pulled into the love that was in the beginning bringing all things into being and never, ever ends. We are pulled into that love and given the strength, in all things, to live in love, and to love others, to abide in hope and trust, instead of living in isolation or fear, to ourselves, be continually brought into being by the God of love.
I am leaving you, my beloved ones, Jesus says, trying to prepare them for what is about to happen. But the Father will send in my name the another who will remind you of all this and teach you and hold you steady.
And later on, we see the risen Jesus breathe on them, and say to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive the one who hovered over the waters at creation; receive the one who entered the nostrils of the earth creature, formed from the dust, and awakened it into being when God breathed life into Adam. Receive the one who is the stuff of the relationship, the intimacy of abiding, the love between the Father and the Son – As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, remain, abide, live, be, in my love. And do not let your hearts be troubled.
This is peace. That whatever threatens to crash down around us, whatever continues to slam up against us, whatever overshadows us and makes us feel afraid, or abandoned or defeated, cannot prevail. We are held within the very love of God.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Feel the breath of life within you.
Close your eyes and let your spirit open up.
Feel it awaken, find its rhythm, alongside the Holy Spirit, the with-us of God-with-us, who is with us now.
Know the eternal relationship of love is holding you fast.
Peace to you.
The Peace of Christ to you.