23 April 2009

“Peace” Seriously?!?

John 20:19-23
By Elder Jeremiah

On the first Sunday after Easter, the lectionary Gospel reading provides us with an account of the first visitation of Jesus to his disciples, that rag-tag, eclectic and sometimes crazy as loons assortment of fishermen, tax collector, and God only knows what else. His first words to them are “Peace be with you.” “Shalom aleichem!”

Petty and vindictive as I can be from time to time, I would have expected an indictment of character, followed by a litany of charges. But all encompassing and loving that Jesus is, he speaks those reassuring, healing words “Shalom aleichem.”

Of all the words in the Hebrew lexicon, to say shalom; that word so rich in meaning which has no direct equivalent in the English language. Yes, it means: hello, welcome and peace. But also happiness, health, well being, wholeness, safety, prosperity. As poignant as in his earthly ministry, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter and addresses their needs.

What anguish the disciples must have suffered. What torture they must have been experiencing at the hands of guilt, shame and remorse. To have abandoned one whom they had held so dear. To witness their preconceived notions crumble in the face of reality. To have their delusions of grandeur stripped away. To feel less than by their actions; for succumbing to the survival instinct, when they were just being human.

And now, they huddled behind closed doors and barred windows, in the dark, hiding from the Roman occupying forces, from the religious authorities and from their own personal demons. Anyone who has ever hidden, literally or metaphorically, from life, from the past, from responsibilities or from future potential, knows the state of pitiful and incomprehensible isolation. So acute isolation can be that even in a crowded room, or, as in this Gospel story, in a room with companions that have traveled together the past three years, one can feel completely and utterly alone, defective and empty. That is why these words, these restorative words, these grace filled words, spoken when; as my friend Stuart likes to say; they “least expected it, most desperately needed it, and were no more deserving of it than that man on the moon,” had the power in them, through the one who spoke them, to act as an elixir to their ailment and anguish of spirit.

But did you notice? Even before these words were spoken, Jesus was there. There was no puff of smoke, no thunderous crash of sound, no blinding flash of light; he just appeared without saying a word. Stepping into that empty space, filling that space between the disciples, between each other, just as his words would fill that space between them and themselves. Unnoticed. Overlooked. For how long? Seconds? A minute, minutes, even possibly an hour or two?

And isn’t that also the case with us? Just as the disciples were unawares that Jesus was present, do we not do the same? When grace fills that space between here and there, this and that, us and ourselves, ourselves and others, and the fit is so perfect that it seems it has always been, how easy it is to overlook, gloss over, even minimize the miracle occurring in front of our very eyes. I have found on my faith journey that writing a gratitude list, taking time from the busyness of life for gentle self examination and reflection, and obtaining observations and constructive criticism from trusted friends has been invaluable at identifying those grace filled moments when a Power greater than myself filled the gap between . . . . How has the Divine brought shalom in your faith journey? How can you share that experience, strength and hope with someone else?

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