The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I recently heard a pastor-friend of mine lamenting about how his grandchildren have never known peace in their lives. They were born post-9/11. All they’ve ever known is a nation at war. This, of course, got the whole table of pastors talking and lamenting about how “un-peaceful” the world is right now, the implication being that they knew better, more peaceful times in their lives; better, more peaceful times that their grandchildren have yet to know or experience. Being the hemorrhoid that I am, I couldn’t resist in applying the Word of God, quoting from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Do not say, ‘Why was it that the former days were better than these days?’ for it was not out of wisdom that you asked this.” There have always been wars and rumors of war. There has always been sickness and suffering and poverty and sorrow. There has always been death. There has always been sin, which means that unless you’ve known no sin, you have never truly known peace. Suffice it to say, that comment didn’t exactly bring peace to the conversation.
Define “peace.” What does it mean to you? Does peace mean everyone getting along, simply playing nice and tolerating each other? Does peace mean no hard feelings; a mere quiet and civilized indifference? Does peace mean not having to worry about things such as sickness, bills, or work? Some of you retired folks nod your heads in agreement, which leads me to ask: If the retired life is so peaceful, then why are so many of you in such a hurry to go home to heaven? I’m not even going to address the worries about Social Security or Medicare or any of the other worldly things we stress about; things which give us no peace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had elderly folks be upset because they’re ready to go home to heaven, and God’s not following their advice. “Why doesn’t He just take me now?” That doesn’t sound like peace to me.
And that leads to another question: Does death equal peace? Not necessarily; not if you die without faith in Christ. Death without faith in Christ is anything but peaceful. Going back to Solomon’s instruction, ask yourself if you’ve ever really known peace in your life. Maybe you’ve known less hectic and trying times throughout your life, but have you ever really known peace; i.e., the absence of all pain, sorrow, regret, and worry? I haven’t, and neither has Solomon. I’m willing to bet that if you’re honest, you’ll find yourself in the same boat; a boat that’s been drifting on the storm-tossed, tumultuous seas of life since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden.
So…if this is the case; if none of us have ever truly known peace in our lives, doesn’t that make the words of Jesus seem a bit trite and Pollyanna? “Peace be with you.” Gee…thanks. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee. Think about it. We Christians speak of peace, particularly the peace of Christ, here at church all the time. Is this what Jesus meant? Is this peace here really any different from the “peace” we get from the rest of the world in our day-to-day lives? How many of you are at peace right now? Don’t be too quick to voice out. Are you truly at peace, or are there things eating at you as you sit here? Do you feel like you’re not good enough to be here because of some sinful skeletons in your closet? Worse yet, do you feel like all these hypocrites aren’t good enough to be here with you? “Can you believe so-and-so…?” That doesn’t sound like peace to me. Are you upset because maybe you weren’t recognized or praised for something you did? Is your heart crooked and hurting because you weren’t consulted about a decision? Is your little ship of faith being tossed about right now because you’re not in charge and in control? Has your peace been shattered because I dared to rattle your cage and confront you with the truth about your false notions of peace?
Over the course of the past couple weeks, our Gospel lessons have dealt with Jesus directing people to a specific location for peace, assurance, and salvation. When Martha was in the throes of grief over the loss of her brother, Jesus directed her to Him and His words. “I am the resurrection and the life. If you believed Me, you would recognize the glorious working of God, right here and right now.” When the ladies went out to the tomb Easter Sunday morning, looking for a corpse to anoint for a more proper burial, the resurrected Christ (and His angel) directed them away from the tomb, instead pointing them to the living, breathing Messiah in their midst; the living, breathing Messiah who said, “Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see Me.” Today is really nothing different. Jesus is again pointing and directing us to a very specific place for a very specific reason—peace.
Notice what your Lord does with His disciples who were cowering behind locked doors out of fear; out of a total lack of peace. He proclaims “peace,” shows them His crucifixion wounds, and then proclaims and pronounces “peace” again. I want you to think about that for a moment. Christ’s declaration of peace is not a simple greeting or “holy howdy” like you might see at some churches today. You know what I mean. The congregation takes some special time out of the service to “pass the peace of Christ,” which basically turns into nothing more than catching up and laughing with close friends and relatives, perhaps making plans for lunch afterwards. No one ever uses this time to truly cultivate the peace of Christ; that is, to purposefully seek out those who have something against you and who are not at peace. No one ever uses this time to forgive as you’ve been forgiven; to love as you’ve been loved. It may be called the passing of the peace, but it’s anything but that.
Christ’s declaration of peace is different. It’s not a holy howdy. It’s a pronouncement; it’s a directive; it’s living proof that what He did on Good Friday on His bloody cross was complete. It is finished! Look here! Behold, your heavenly Father is at peace. Here is the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Jesus’ declaration of peace was very much like a “show and tell.” His declaration of peace necessarily included the “show and tell” of the wounds He suffered for all mankind while laying down His life on the cross. He told them—He proved to them and assured them—of God’s peace with them, the proof being in the very wounds He bore on His body.
In this way, Christ’s pronouncement of peace is also an absolution. If you remember, the last time these guys had seen Jesus was as they were fleeing for their lives, running away and deserting Him. Despite all their sinful failures; all their damnable errors, Jesus was directing them to the proof that all was forgiven. No hard feelings. No letting it go for now, but being sure to file it away for later so He could hold it over their heads or throw it back in their faces when the time was right. That’s how we act. Thankfully, that’s not how our unconditionally loving Lord and Savior acts. Jesus told these men that all was peaceful with their heavenly Father, and He showed them exactly how that peace came about—the wounds He received in His suffering and death. Then He told them again exactly what those wounds meant for them and mean for all mankind—peace; God’s eternal peace. Recognized in this light, you get the feeling that Jesus really wanted to make this core salvation truth crystal clear. He didn’t want there to be any doubt whatsoever about the standing between them and their heavenly Father.
Folks: Nothing has changed! Christ Jesus still comes to us, directing us to this same peace—our eternal peace. If only people would stop being so stubborn and simply believe what Christ Himself shows us and tells us! He brings to us His Word, His Baptism, His Body and Blood, pronouncing, declaring, and proving that our heavenly Father is completely at peace with us because of Christ’s all-redeeming death and resurrection. His pronouncement of peace is still divine absolution for our souls. Just look at it through the lens of Holy Communion. Every time you take communion, you are receiving the very body and blood of Christ Jesus—the very same body and blood that was put to death and raised victorious for you. Every time you take communion, you are receiving Christ’s proof and sure and certain promise that your heavenly Father is at peace with you because of Christ alone. Your sins are completely covered over in His blood and remembered no more. This is precisely why you always hear after the consecration and after receiving the consecrated elements, “Depart in peace.” It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a nice, godly-sounding way to transition to the next part of the liturgy. It’s faithful proclamation of Gospel truth. Christ Jesus died and rose again for you. Your sins are remembered no more. You are completely covered over in Christ’s righteousness. That means peace—now and forever.
May this true peace, which surpasses all human understanding and is recognized and understood and shared only in saving faith, be and remain with you always. Yes—you are at peace, in Christ and because of Christ, in spite of the sinful sorrows and tumults you face in this fallen and sinful thing we call life. You know true peace because you know Christ. By God’s grace, may this be your reality, your joy, and your peace, now and forevermore.
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