The Rt. Rev. Allen Bartlett, Jr.: “The Peace of Christ”
John 20:19b-21 Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
How remarkable and appropriate! In the Gospel Jesus speaks from Jerusalem, “Peace be with you”…and our intended celebrant today is not here; he is seeking peace for Jerusalem The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, our Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, was scheduled to be our Celebrant today, but he is meeting there today with General Zinni and others, by way of preparation for the coming of Secretary Colin Powell. God willing, he will arrive tomorrow and will be giving the Claggett Lecture here this Wednesday at 7:30 pm. He will be preaching from this pulpit next Sunday.
But there is more to know about Bishop Riah. He is an Anglican. He is a Palestinian Arab. He is a citizen of the State of Israel. So he is a Palestinian Arab Israeli Anglican Bishop! Those adjectives don’t line up very easily. But fundamentally he is a Christian. Bishop Riah thus uniquely represents the sometimes anguishing complexity of what it is to be a bearer of Christ’s peace in a world that is falling apart. That is what I want to talk with you about for a few minutes this morning: not Bishop Riah, not just the Middle East, but the peace of Christ.
Imagine your way into the Gospel situation. It is evening on the-first Easter day. The disciples are huddled behind locked doors. They still do not know what to make of the stories of the tomb being empty. They have seen Jesus die on the cross. They are afraid of the religious leaders, they are afraid that they might be next, they are afraid for their own lives.
Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst. His first words to them are “Peace be with you.” They are glad. Their hearts leap with joy.
The words are significant. “Peace be with you” was a common greeting, but coming from Jesus this had a much deeper meaning. When he was talking with the Twelve that last night in the Upper Room, after the Last Supper, he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. ” At the very end he said, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you may have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
“Peace be with you” thus means a lot more than “Have a good day.” It’s about being connected with God and with Jesus and with one another. It’s like treading water and then suddenly putting your foot down and Ending something there. It’s about hope and joy. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. ”
It’s the inner sense of calm and certainty that all is going to be all right in the long run, even as one faces disaster, because death is not the end and all is connected and all is in the hands of God. It is what sustains the thousands who lost loved ones in the tragedy of Sept. 11. “Peace be with you”: it is the special gift of Jesus. It is what we try to share in and celebrate with one another when we exchange the peace, because it is the peace of the Lord, not just our own good wishes.
The peace of Christ gladdens the heart, in a profound way: that is the first thing.
The second thing is that the peace of Christ is costly. After he said, “Peace be with you”, “He showed them his hands and his side.” His hands where the nails went in. The side, pierced by a spear.
We sing a lot of victorious hymns during Eastertide, but it was no cheap victory. There was the abuse. The crown of thorns. The crucifixion. Signs of the costly nature of the love of God in Christ.
Jesus did not just say, “Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Wear a smile. Have a good day.” He literally poured himself out for the Twelve and for us. He suffered. He died. That is how he overcame the world. That is how he brought peace.—,-Real peace is never easy. We have seen a great many struggles Or peace and justice in recent decades. In the 1960s the struggles over the Vietnam War convulsed our country, even as our soldiers were giving their lives in battle. In 1987 on this very weekend, the weekend after Easter, more than a hundred thousand people came to Washington to demonstrate in the name of peace in Central America and South Africa. The Rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, was reflecting this week on his memory of Eastertide in Los Angeles in 1992: he was taking food to survivors of the Rodney King riots. September I I of this past year left deep scars on the body of this country, scars that remain very tender. Today we are all anguished about the violence in Middle East, especially the terrible struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. More than a thousand Palestinians and more than 300 Israelis have been killed in the past year and a half We grieve over the oppression and daily humiliation of Palestinians since 1967, the suicide bombings that kill Israelis, the ruthless invasion by Israel. The leadership of both sides seem locked in a death struggle of revenge and retribution. To try to bring peace to that region seems risky.
The peace of Christ is costly.
But my friends, that is what we do. Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and his side. Then he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is the third thing: peace is what we are sent to do.
Jesus sends us into the world as bearers of his costly but gladdening peace.
All of us are aware, especially since September 11, that we live in a dangerous world. We have come to value human life and one another more deeply. We give thanks more fervently for the privileges we enjoy … we don’t deserve them, they are just gifts to us, and we are grateful to God. We hug one another and we say our prayers. And this is good.
But Jesus calls us to do more. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” We think of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and Prime Minim DeClerk, who all took huge risks in South Africa. We think of George Mitchell, working for a year or more to negotiate peace in Ireland.
Sometimes congregations change their mission in response to a call from God. When the World Trade Towers fell on that terrible September 11, St. Paul’s Chapel right next door was buried three feet deep in dust and debris. But it was miraculously spared any damage. It had been a little-used chapel of Trinity Church, Wall -Street.—-But they quickly realized that they had a new mission. They became a respite center for the exhausted police, fire fighters, utility and construction workers. A place to sleep, to get food and coffee and boos and Ent aid, a place to recover, a place to pray. It’s still happening, as we speak. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Our administration has decided at last to take a stronger hand in the terrible conflict in Israel and Palestine, and I am grateful. Yes, it will cost us something to intervene with strength and steadiness of purpose in the Middle East. We will be wounded. But we are already deeply committed, and we cannot look the other way as our fellow children of Abraham slaughter each other. I hope and pray for justice and security for both peoples; only that will lead to peace. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Yes, there are risks for nations and for congregations and for individuals, as we seek to respond to human need, whether it be an international effort or just writing a letter or going to see a suffering friend.
But that is what we are called to do. A famous schoolmaster, Samuel Drurdy of St. Paul’s School, used to tell his sacred studies students, “God will not look us over for medals or diplomas, but for scars.”
The risen Christ says to US, “Peace be with you.” Jesus sends us into the world as bearers of his costly but gladdening peace.