“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.”
So much of the time when we think of peace we think about peace in the city, peace in our nation, and peace among nations. We have prayed for peace in the Middle East, and now we pray for peace between our nation and North Korea, and China, and Russia, and all the places the news tells us of trouble. We know that our prayers for peace will have no end because even when there seems to be peace in our world it is not lasting. Jesus gives a peace not like any of these. His peace is a gift that sustains our hope and our faith in the midst of all the conflicts of our world.
When we are faced with conflict at home, in our congregations, in our community and in our world the only peace that brings comfort is the peace the Jesus gives through the Holy Spirit. It comes to us in the midst of our struggles, our pressures, our conflicts and disharmony. Look at the moment when Jesus gives this message of peace to his disciples. It was the night before his crucifixion when conflict and danger were looming, in the very midst of his own execution. Yet in that moment he not only knows peace but gives it to others, and he does the same for us.
I wonder how often we sense the depth of God’s gift of peace, the promise that no matter what happens, God will not abandon us but is always with us working for our good. Through us God is also working for the good of our neighbors and our world. We have the joy of sharing God’s gift of peace with others.
I’ve followed more than one church conflict as a pastor and interim pastor. In each case I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what had happened, and invariably various ones would blame the conflict on some individual or group of individuals. Finally in one congregation I gave up trying to mentally work through the causes and wrote a confession for the congregation that included all of the accusations, like name calling, gossip, hard feelings, unforgiveness, etc., that I had been given by various people in the congregation. I printed up an insert for the bulletin with this confession and the absolution on it.
On Sunday morning I asked that all who wished to come to the altar to verbalize this confession together could do so if they wanted to. All of the congregation came forward to make the confession. I then pronounced God’s words of absolution and restoration.
This one act of corporate confession and hearing God’s forgiveness somehow seemed different to them than the corporate confession we speak at the beginning of each worship service.
The very specific confession and absolution was healing. It brought peace in the hearts of the people and between people. It was an experience of the peace that Jesus gives because it voiced the reassurance that God loved them in spite of their conflicts, and that God was giving them a new beginning—a place of peace.
Oh, that we can let God’s peace wash over us all in the midst of any of our conflicts, struggles, and fears so we can reach out to our neighbor in love.
It is not a peace that we can give, but a peace that only we can receive from God who loves us, and when we receive it we can pass it on to others.
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.