Christ’s Peace

Is today’s gospel reading (John 14.23-29) anything more than a nice little farewell speech from Jesus? Yes, there is the commission to keep his word, but don’t we customarily tend to get a lovely glow from that

Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give,
this is my gift to you.

and gloss over the hard bits? The bits that tell us peace isn’t easy, cannot be be taken for granted, exists even in the midst of conflict and violence? The Benedictine device of the word pax, ‘peace’, surrounded by a crown of thorns is a powerful reminder not only that peace is Christ’s gift, but that the way to it is both protected by sacrifice and suffering and barred by pain and difficulty. It is, in truth, a very ambivalent sign.

The death of Fr Daniel Berrigan S.J. will have reminded those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War what an extraordinarly confused time that was. Peace activists sometimes gave the impression of not caring very much about the consequences of their actions. The cause was all in all, and it didn’t really matter if some people were hurt or even killed. I still can’t make up my mind whether that was the best way to oppose some of the enormities committed in Vietnam, but without that opposition, so the argument goes, there would have been even more death and destruction than there was. Much the same line of argument tends to be used today in support of everything from attacks on the pope to gender questions to whatever is the burning issue of the day. ‘I am right about this, and anyone who thinks differently is wrong. It therefore doesn’t matter how I treat them or what I say or do in support of my views.’

I think it matters very much. The peace of Christ is not something extra, something added on to our existence. It is fundamental — a peace, a blessedness, meant to inform our whole being and change the way in which we view everyone and everything. It is something we are to share with others, not just those we like or are in agreement with. At the heart of the biblical notion of peace is a sense of completeness. That can be a very challenging idea to grasp, but I think it boils down to this. Christ’s peace embraces the whole world. Does ours?

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4 thoughts on “Christ’s Peace”

  1. I am a prison volunteer and we have just become the first UK prison to belong to Coventry’s Community of the Cross of Nails, which works for peace and reconciliation. It dates from the morning after Covemtry’s old cathedral was deatroyed in the blitz, when Provost Howard coined the slogan “Father, Forgive” (obviously taken from Jesus’ words from the cross).

  2. Your post reminds me of the time my friend (RC) and I were taking part in a Yoga w/e in a Meditation Centre (Tibetan Buddhist) when I remarked how peaceful it was. She said, quite sharply, “It’s easy to be a saint among angels.” And she was right.

    We so often save our grace and equanimity for the good times instead of spending them more generously during the really hard, grinding times of our life.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Those words, which we hear so often can be devalued if we don’t listen with our full attention. There are those, who are uncomfortable with sharing ‘The Peace of Christ’ and while I can understand a little their discomfort, I always feel sadwhen they turn their back on a child, coming to offer ‘The Sign of God’s Peace’ with an outstretched hand.

    The purity and innocence of that child’s gesture holds within it, Jesus’ words to us, and his intentions of giving us his peace. I have to admit when it was first introduced all of those years ago, I didn’t actually understand it’s full meaning, but when I was in difficult situations and places in my military life, it suddenly took on a whole new life within me and I embraced it fully. Peace was supposedly what we were there for (or our politicians told us so), but we wondered how ‘war fighting’ could be described as ‘peace keeping’ because overtly, we were armed and ready for a fight?

    But you understood better, when you were actively intervening in situations of civil conflict, where you were between the protagonists – keeping the peace. That didn’t last long, before one side took against you, and you became part of the problem, by your very presence there. Peace keeping operations, became war fighting, under the guise of peace keeping.

    Happily, I wasn’t in those situations often, twice in 43 years, but I lived a life of training, and preparing for situations and served on, by recruiting, training and preparing others to do similar things that I had done in the past.

    So peace for mankind for me is to be in a constant state of tension and watchfulness to protect that peace that we do have, and to strive hard through our example to pass on Jesus’ peace to others. It’s sadly, not proving that successful as the state of our world today testifies, but I live in hope and prayer, that perhaps mankind will see that Jesus’ peace is the only way to live.

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