05 May 2013

Peace: one more thing Jesus messes up!

NB. Another adapted homily. . .

6th Sunday of Easter 2013
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. You are no longer our own; you no longer live for yourself alone. So, you can stop running and hiding. You are possessed by a spirit! Wholly owned and operated by the Holy Spirit. And if this causes you noticeable delight—Good!—but let me add a dire warning that will likely creep you out: you have, we have in virtue of our possession by the Holy Spirit, we have inherited (are you ready?)…the Peace of Christ! If this doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, you weren’t listening to the gospel. Jesus says to the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Easy enough. Then, he adds: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Now that’s just wrong! He had a good thing going there and then he messes it up by telling us that this Good Thing he’s giving us isn’t exactly the Good Thing we thought it was. And that changes everything. Except this: there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. We are no longer our own. 

You would think that as heirs to the peace of Christ, we would be rejoicing in his serene calm, a well-balanced spiritual harmony. You would think that we would never argue, never fight, never become angry or frustrated with one another. You would think. And you would be wrong. Why would we assume that Christ’s Peace has anything at all to do with spiritual serenity or psychological wellness or bodily stillness? Given Jesus’ tumultuous life and his violent end on the cross; the oftentimes violent history of the Church on earth; given the sometimes painful, purifying work of the Spirit’s Fire in us and among us; and the ebb and flow of pilgrims' holiness, why would any Christian believe that Christ’s Peace is about peace at all? Shalom I leave with you; my shalom I give to you. 

Inasmuch as “love” has come to mean “that warm-fuzzy feeling we get that tells us to accept and approve anything and everything that comes our way,” so “peace” has come to mean something like “a permanent numbness of heart and mind that deflects all conflict at the expense of the truth.” Biblically, of course, peace (shalom) means “prosperity,” “security,” “success,” and even “salvation.” My research tells me that the best English translation of shalom is “well-being,” but the shading of the word leans heavily toward wishing someone material success or worldly security. This is perhaps more like the Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper” than it is the Buddhist idea of “eliminating suffering by eliminating desire.” Jesus leaves us his peace, true; but, he explicitly notes that this is not the peace of the world. His peace is something else entirely.

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” My peace. Most certainly not the World’s Material Peace or the Empire’s Political Peace or the Temple’s Religious Peace. But the Peace of Christ. What sort of peace is this? Christ’s Peace comes with the Holy Spirit. Notice the sequence of events in the gospel: Christ is leaving the disciples to go to the Father. He says he is sending the Advocate in his place to teach them everything and to remind them of all that he has taught. Being reminded of Jesus’ teachings, of everything he has said, and then remembering his teachings—this is “Christ’s Peace.” Does being reminded of Christ’s teachings and then remembering Christ’s teachings bring you that pleasantly numbed feeling that we often associate with a material “peace”? Let’s hope not! In the same way that welcoming Christ’s love into your life requires a commitment to conversion and service—“whoever loves me will keep my word”—so accepting his peace means settling your troubled heart into the truth of his teachings—“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” You are no long your own. 

Being heirs to Christ’s Peace, then, is first about being heirs to his teachings; being the recipients of his Word and the certainty we have in the truth of his witness. This is the peace we live knowing that Christ reveals the Father and that the Spirit dwells among us as their Love for one another. Again, there is nothing numbing or tranquil about this fundamental fact of the faith—it bears on our souls to live this truth fully in the world. We must give flesh and bone to this truth; we must incarnate Christ’s love, and in doing so, accept his peace. How? We live Christ’s triduum—in his betrayal, his humiliation, his beatings, his Cross, and his tomb—we live these as Christ himself did: trusting in God’s care, His plan, His blessings and abundance, and then giving our lives freely for others. Isn’t this is the courage of the martyrs? Their witness to the bare bones power of Christ’s promises? They took on Christ’s Peace and their question to us is clear: will you follow…if called upon, will you follow? 

Now, knowing that Christ’s Peace might require a Red Witness, does the thought of receiving his peace make you a little nervous? If you love him, you will keep his Word, preach his Word, teach his Word, obey his Word; you will make your dwelling with him, and follow him always; you will fall, fail, rise again and peak; you will stumble and crash and you will jump and fly; you will believe and doubt and hide and find; and you will come to a passionate obsession, a loving fascination with the movement of the Spirit, the leadership of Christ’s Peace in your life. But expect no peace of mind. Rather welcome the intellectual turmoil that follows the sword of truth. Expect no peace in your body. Rather welcome the tension that comes with making your flesh a daily sacrifice. Expect nothing balanced or harmonized or gentled to rule you. You are ruled by the Prince of Peace, the One Anointed, whose reign requires you to serve against your best instincts, to surrender your greatest perceived needs, and to follow into hell and on to heaven a dead Jewish rebel executed on a tree. How absurd! And yet, the Spirit burns, with tongues of fire, the Law of Love into our hearts: to die for a beloved friend is the greatest gift. 

When you exchange the peace this morning, remember: you are not wishing your neighbors worldly well-being or cheerfulness or a pleasant day/tomorrow. You are reminding them (and you are being reminded in turn) that Christ’s Peace is more threat than promise. Think: “Peace be with you” means “You are Christ. You will suffer, die, and rise again! For whom will you sacrifice yourself today?” Perhaps you will skip the exchange of peace altogether! Don’t! Why? Jesus said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” There is no dwelling place with the Father for those who do not keep Christ’s words. So, love Christ, keep his Word. And take on his Peace with fear and trembling; take it on only when you are grateful enough to him for dying for you that you are ready to die for someone else. 

Then, only then, you are truly at Peace. Christ’s Peace. 

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  1. Excellent adaptation! I may have to borrow some of this for my upcoming Pentecost Homily!

    When I dug into Peace - Shalom in Hebrew - Shalma in Aramaic, I found a definition of completeness or wholeness in addition to the others and this lead me to the idea of being complete or whole with Christ. He wishes us to be as complete as we can be, wholly unified with Him so that He can live His life in us!

    I really enjoy your homilies, even if your laptop still isn't in yet!

    Shalma 'lekhon

  2. I really liked the final 2+final line paragraphs. Your opening was attention-grabbing, and I thought the first paragraph did a good job of setting up the homily. The first line woke me up and invited me to listen. Much good and pertinent information, but I found myself wondering when you were going to get to the point. It seemed to me that the same message was repeated several times with different words throughout the body of the homily. Admittedly, the ending made up for that! Especially the paragraph beginning "Now, knowing that Christ's peace might require. . . ." That particular paragraph was, I thought, the strongest and most thought-provoking of the homily.

    Overall, I enjoyed listening and reading. I'll certainly think differently today during the Sign of Peace! And as always, thank you.