The door to our church gate is now shut as a safety precaution, so that we will not be disturbed in our worship today. It was the same on the first Pascha when the door to the room where the disciples had gathered was shut “for fear of the Jews” disturbing them. However, Jesus Christ appeared to the disciples and said to them: “Peace be with you… Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit….” Those words from the 20th chapter of the Gospel of St John were read in many languages here at St Aidan’s and in Orthodox churches throughout the world. What is this peace that Christ is offering to the disciples and to us? How can we reach out to this peace and make it part of our daily lives?
Sometimes, we consider peace to be a happy emotional state in which we are not angry with anyone else; no one is angry with us; and we have calmness in our lives. The manager of the Manchester United Football Club, Jose Mourinho, is trying to gain that peace. He no longer wishes to be known as “the special one,” but is now, according to The Independent newspaper, “become the calm one at Old Trafford.” At a recent press conference the 54-year-old Portuguese manager claimed that his priority now is “to establish relationships of love and peace in [this] group, to create stability.” If that can happen to Jose Mourinho and any football club he manages, it can happen to each of us. We can become peaceful.
However, at Pascha we are seeking more than emotional peace and stability in relationships in our families, in our work, and with our friends. We are seeking to understand and become united in thought and in feeling with Christ—with His life, His death, and His resurrection. During this Great and Holy Week we have sought to know Christ better than we knew Him last week. We seek to grow as Christians. We each live our lives in three different dimensions—as Christians, as persons, and as male or female. To be united with Christ—to grow as Christians—it is essential that we integrate and unite all three of those dimensions into our personalities. We grow as Christians when we pray, receive Holy Communion, help others, and seek to create a better society, locally, nationally and globally. We grow as persons when we live with integrity, seeking God’s will in our own lives and in our relationships with others. We grow as men and women, when we seek to balance our spirituality and our sexuality, determined to find out more about this peace that Christ offers to the disciples and to us—which is more than emotional stability.
The word for “peace” in Hebrew is shalom; and one modern Biblical commentator tells us that shalom comes from a root word that has “the image of wholeness, unity and harmony.” Peace “expresses the fulfilment that comes to human beings when they experience God’s presence [in their lives].” In Psalm 4, verse 8, when King David is in great danger from the revolt of Absalom he “remembers the joy that comes with trust in [the Lord]. The king prays: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” and have, as the Septuagint translation from the Hebrew to the Greek says, “You alone, O Lord, settled me in hope.” Thus the person “of peace lives in a right relationship with God, for God alone is the source of [both] human rest and [human] fulfilment.”
The word for peace in Greek is eirēnē; and the same Biblical commentator suggests that “in every theologically significant use [in the New Testament], peace is something rooted in one’s relationship with God and testifies to the restoration of human beings to inner harmony and to harmonious relationships with others. Our once-shattered lives are again made whole; and we become in Christ what God originally intended for us to be. The vital health and wholeness of a restored humanity is available in Jesus [Christ].” Thus, in both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, peace is the presence of the Lord in each of our lives. As St Paul writes in Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 14, “Christ Jesus … Himself is our peace.”
Whether we live in the first century or the twenty-first, we can learn to seek this experience of the peace of Christ. How can we do this? Only with God’s love—with grace. As Father Gregory and I have been saying in our sermons for several weeks now, grace is all the different ways in which God loves us. Grace is a free action of the Lord, but we do need to ask the Lord to give it to us. Trying to understand grace better, I found an interesting website, http://www.wiseoldsayings.com, which began with St Augustine’s insight that “grace is given [by God] not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” A contemporary Christian writer, Max Lucado, comments that “when grace moves in, guilt moves out…. Grace is the voice,” suggests Lucado, “that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.” Furthermore, grace grows slowly, over the years, within each of us. The American scientist and inventor, Thomas Adams, who died in 1905, was a committed Christian who had an important insight about grace. He wrote: “Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a [better] light; and at last the sun in [its] full and excellent brightness.” However, even though grace grows slowly within us, several contemporary Christian writers have reminded us that “Grace is available for each of us every day [as] our spiritual daily bread, but we’ve got to remember to ask for it … and not worry about whether there will be enough for tomorrow.” It is true that our “worst days are never so bad that [we] are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And [our] best days are never so good that [we] are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
The fourth century Biblical commentator, Marius Victorinus, reflected that we seek grace in order that, and I quote, we can “know God and fully obey … Christ, putting all trust in Christ and nothing else” [end of quote]. By searching for the grace of God in our lives, on this day of Pascha—when Christ Himself passes over from death to life—we can rejoice with St Paul in the fourth chapter of Philippians. I close with his words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; [and] again I … say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all [people]. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, in prayer and supplication [that is, in the action of asking for something earnestly and humbly] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”