Imagine what it was like in that upstairs room. The disciples were startled, frightened, terrified even, and Jesus appears there, with a word of peace. He has to tell them twice that he really is the person standing in front of them. He shows them his hands and his feet, invites them to touch him and when this doesn’t seem to quell their fear and dispel their disbelief he asks for some of the fish they obviously were sharing when he appeared so unexpectedly among them. He ate it in their presence, all to convince them that they really were seeing Jesus in the flesh. Ghost don’t eat, especially not fish.
I think that Luke is struggling to express the fact that Jesus really is present to his disciples. Don’t we still struggle and search for words to describe this incredible truth? Jesus’ first words were “Peace be with you”, it’s as though the silence of death has been broken with these wonderful words of peace.
If you had died and rose again, what do you think would be the first thing you would say to family and friends when you saw them together for the first time?
Perhaps you’d have to say something personal just to prove to them that it really was you. Maybe you would have to answer their likely questions about the whole experience of death and what had really happened to you. Yet what did Jesus say after he rose from the dead? Words of peace, not words about himself, but words for others, like he always did. Words of peace as carolled by the angels at his birth.
I heard it expressed like this:
“God had to go the whole way, become one of us (one of us!) in Jesus, the Anointed One, suffer our rejection, die, and be raised from death, restored to the fullness of human life (and our human life is restored in him) ………to finally convince us that God loves us beyond all measure, beyond all limits, beyond death itself. Is there any possible response to such a manifestation of love but a combination of fear, joy, awe and disbelief.”
There is a craving deep within us, I believe, for the “peace that passes all understanding”. Such a peace can neither be earned nor deserved because it’s a gift flowing from knowing oneself as cherished and loved by God.
That word of peace which Jesus uttered encapsulates the deepest sense of joy, well-being and harmony – harmony with God through Jesus himself, harmony with one another and so importantly in this day and age, harmony with creation.
Jesus doesn’t simply speak or deliver peace or promise peace. He is peace. He gives us this gift of inner peace, a spiritual state marked by freedom from fears and anxieties. The reality for most of us, however, is that our lives swing like pendulums between this inner peace and the pressures of our outward daily living. Watching television, reading newspapers, highlight the fact that there are so many people today who lack any sense of peace within them. Lives are a constant struggle for many people each and every day, at the most serious end, trying to stay alive when surrounded by the violence of war; or in refugee camps where food, water, and justice are severely lacking. Closer to home, people without jobs or homes, or enough money to exist, as well as those who fear a future of sickness and all the frailty of advancing age. How can these words of peace spoken by Jesus penetrate their lives so that there can be any hope of transformation for the better?
This peace that Jesus speaks to the frightened disciples and to us is the peace spoken of by the psalmist centuries before: where ‘steadfast love and faithfulness meet and justice and peace embrace.’ (Psalm 85: v.10)
This is surely the peace which Jesus embodied and challenges us to embody also. Justice and peace so entwined that they not only nourish acts of love and faithfulness, but open our eyes to where injustices have taken root within society.
There can be no separation between faith and life. God expects a response from those who hear the good news, God wants our faith to be active in love. If we consider ourselves as followers of Jesus, Prince of Peace, then our lives, like his, will result in relationships that are just, equitable, and which reflect God’s love.
God enabled Jesus to cross the boundary separating death from life, an act which changed lives forever. We all have boundaries in our lives that we hesitate to cross, places patrolled by fear, or prejudice, or ignorance, or apathy. They may be external and visible borders, or invisible and interior. In any case, justice requires us to cross those thresholds that separate us from the poor, the sick, the friendless, the needy, to follow Jesus.
The final words of today’s gospel speak about being witnesses of this peace day by day. Surely learning and growing as Christians is the fruit of peace for each of us. Jesus sends us and leads us to share whatever gifts we have received with those in need, so that love and faithfulness meet, and justice and peace become reality through our words and actions. When that happens, the silence of death is broken once more with the word of peace, Jesus’ words spoken and lived through each one of us.
I’m going to end with some words from A Prayer for Peace by William Sloane Coffin:
Strengthen our resolve to see fulfilled in the world around us and in our time, all hopes for justice so long deferred, and keep us on the stony, long and lonely road that leads to peace. May we think for peace, struggle for peace, suffer for peace. Fill our hearts with courage that we not give in to bitterness and self-pity, but learn rather to count pain and disappointment, humiliation and setback, as but straws on the tide of life. So may we run and not grow weary, walk and not faint, until that day when…..love will be all in all in this wonderful, terrible, beautiful world. Amen.