SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” John 20:19.
It has been a violent Holy Week. In addition to the ongoing carnage in Ukraine, we have seen seven people killed and scores more wounded in mass shootings here in the United States. Pope Francis referred to this holiest of Christian days as an “Easter of War,” in his address from the Vatican. Yet Jesus comes to us as he did to his terrified disciples hiding behind locked doors to say “Peace be with you.” This salutation sounded no less dissonant then than it does today. The disciples were living under a military occupation force whose willingness to employ torture and crucifixion to “keep the peace” had just been made graphically apparent. The world was no less dangerous on Easter morning than it was the week before.
So what are we to make of this “Peace” with which Jesus meets us? Peace has many meanings in common parlance. It can mean simply the absence of violent conflict-such as we experienced during the days of the “cold war.” It can refer to resolution of a conflict by means of cease fire, treaty or alliance. Peace can refer to an inner condition of the self, such as a sense of wellbeing, acceptance of conditions and circumstances of one’s life or the result of a spiritual connection with the divine, the universe, the spirit world, the force-or whatever. But none of those definitions seem to fit here. Though Jesus has been raised, nothing has changed on the street. The people who had it in for Jesus are still out there. Roman forces are still occupying Judea. The war in Ukraine continues to escalate. People are being gunned down in our shopping malls and our political and religious leaders counter with “thoughts and prayers.”
The peace Jesus imparts is nothing like the peace we long for. In fact, Jesus tells us flat out that he is not interested in our kind of peace. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” asks Jesus rhetorically. “No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51-53. By peace, Jesus does not mean anything like the “peace of Rome” imposed by the sword. Jesus does not want the kind of peace made by ignoring and smoothing over a racist remark made by uncle Harry so as not to “spoil Thanksgiving dinner.” Jesus has no interest in the peace white supremacist politicians are trying to make through legislation erasing from our school curriculum every trace of Black American experience by banning books, threatening teachers and encouraging disruption of local school board meetings. Jesus does not approve of peace made by and for bigots through effectively denying the existence or legitimacy of LGBTQ+ families. Jesus stands with the prophet Jeremiah in refusing to “heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14.
The peace to which Jesus calls his disciples is “not such as the world gives.” John 14:27. It is not quickly or easily achieved. The peace of God is not made by sweeping conflict under the rug. It cannot come without acknowledging and addressing systemic racism that permeates our culture, including the church. The peace of God cannot come without our facing the sexist and patriarchal structures that continue to disfigure the personal, educational and professional growth of women and girls. Peace will not come without our coming to grips with the ongoing ecological ruin of our planet by the ruthless greed of a capitalist society. Peace without justice is no peace at all. Jesus will tolerate no shortcuts when it comes to peacemaking.
Moreover, as Jesus warns us, living in and making this peace does not come without risk. Rev. Franklin Graham found that out when he got reamed on social media for having the audacity to call upon Christians to pray for Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Society of Friends, Mennonites and the other peace churches have known for generations the hatred, ridicule and sometimes violence that can result from urging love for those our nation has declared “enemies.” When you reach out the hand of friendship across national, tribal, ideological lines you risk getting a nail pounded through it. But if peace, real peace, reconciling peace is to prevail, disciples of Jesus must be as willing to put their lives on the line for it as soldiers are to put their lives on the line for nation, blood and soil.
Here is a poem/hymn by William Alexander Percy that speaks eloquently to the peace of God Jesus proclaims and offers.
They Cast Their Nets in Galilee
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher-folk,
Before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fisherfolk,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts
Brim-full, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing–
The marvellous peace of God.
Source: Episcopal Hymnal (1982) (Hymn 661). William Alexander Percy (1885 – 1942) was a lawyer, planter,and poet from Greenville, Mississippi. His autobiography Lanterns on the Levee (Knopf 1941) became a bestseller. His other works include the text of the above hymn and the Collected Poems (Knopf 1943). Percy spent a year in Paris before going to Harvard for a law degree. After returning to Greenville, Percy joined his father’s law firm where he practiced until 1916 when he joined the Commission for Relief in Belgium. He served in Belgium as a delegate until the withdrawal of American personnel upon the US declaration of war in April 1917. He served in the US Army in World War I, earning the rank of Captain. From 1925 to 1932, Percy edited the Yale Younger Poets series and published four volumes of poetry with the the Yale University Press.
 Everyone who follows me with regularity knows that I am no admirer of Rev. Franklin Graham, the brand of Christianity he preaches or the hateful political agendas he has promoted under the cover of religion. Nonetheless, he is right as rain in saying that we ought to pray for our enemies and persecutors. That is about as central to Jesus’ teaching and example as anything can come. To follow Jesus is to believe that God hates nothing that God has made, that all human beings bear the image of their maker and that God’s Spirit is capable of transforming even those in whom that image has become extremely distorted.