Jesus said, “Peace be with you”

It is now three years since a small group across the Vale of White Horse Deanery has been coming together on Zoom on Wednesday mornings to pray for the Church in our area and topical issues.  Each week we pray for our clergy and ministry teams, and we focus in particular on one benefice and its work.  We pray for matters that are part of our Deanery Mission Action Plan; for our communities, our schools, children and young people; for the environment, and for other concerns as they arise.  This week, for this third anniversary, we were blessed to be joined by Bishop Gavin.

Each week, in a world that is suffering conflict and hurt now and will continue to suffer in the next week, the group prays for peace.  What is this peace for which we pray?  It has to be more than simply an end to war. Dorothy Thompson, pioneer female journalist, campaigner and champion of both Jewish and Palestinian refugees, identified in 1945 peace as “a positive condition of justice. It is the sister of charity and mercy. It is the offspring of honesty and truth. It is the triumph of principle.”  We might be reminded here of the passage out of Isaiah 61 verses 1-2 from which Jesus read in the temple and explained was fulfilled by him:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Peace in the world requires our active commitment and cooperation, our work to put right broken situations and to heal relationships; but time and time again, we see that is not enough.  Real peace depends on our depending on God, and being part of a community, a sharing, of God’s love in the midst of worldly troubles.

In all the confusion, wonder, fear and doubt that the disciples were experiencing in the days following the death and resurrection of Christ, “Peace be with you” was the first thing that Jesus said to them when he appeared among them. Was that simply a greeting – or something much more?  That Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’ is a blessing of deep wellbeing. The World Health Organisation describes wellbeing as “the capacity to cope with life and to contribute fruitfully in work and community.”  It is about flourishing in relationship with the world.  But Shalom is more than this; it is spiritual peace – an inner and outer joy, and being in a state of reconciliation with God and each other.  It is about being centred and rooted in the God-peace which is in the eye of all the storms of life.  When Jesus was preparing his disciples for their doubts and fears after his death and for their life as apostles, he warned them, “I’ve told you this so that my peace will be with you. In the world you’ll have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

So, peace does not mean no trouble, no trauma, no grief. There is still violence, incurable disease and pain, dementia, money worries … We can each add our own hurt or anxiety to the list.  We can find ways of discovering solace: in nature’s beauty, talking to others, reading, singing, doing things together with friends … Again, add your own to the list.   Personally, lighting a candle and listening to the music of Gregorian chants or making something practical help me when I am stressed or unhappy.  Whatever works for you, these are ways of creating space in the trouble, of finding the storm-eye in which to be recentred in God’s presence and to hand our situation over to Him.  Quite possibly God will hand it straight back to us, not necessarily with the fix that we desire, but inviting us to embrace the situation while being strengthened and held in his love. That may feel impossible and senseless, but St Paul tells us,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6-7)

When Jesus greets us, “Peace be with you,” it is a blessing and it is a promise.

Whatever your worries are, I pray Christ’s shalom be with you and help you cope today.

Lucy G

Dorothy Thompson, Lincoln Evening Journal, 30 November 1945, p.6.  https://quoteinvestigator.com

World Health Organisation, Promoting Mental Health, WHO 2004

Image – Eye of Hurricane Michael, 10 October 2018, http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov  via Google Images under Creative Commons Licence