True peace is harmony with God

  • March 25, 2008

Second Sunday of Easter (Year A) March 30 (Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31)

What an ideal community — a veritable utopia! We might suspect that the early Christian communities were not quite as rosy as Luke paints them. Paul’s letters are certainly a dissenting voice. But even allowing for Luke’s often idealistic and enthusiastic portrayal of community life in the early days of the Christian movement, it is clear that it was something very exceptional.

The source of their power was their sense of unity — not conformity, but a joining of minds and hearts in love for the Lord and one another. No one who entered their community in sincerity of heart was left behind or voted out. Their community was not yet darkened with tension and resentment arising from the scandal of “haves” and “have-nots.” Neither was it poisoned by competitive power-plays or authoritarianism. The power of their prayers was multiplied as they prayed together with unity of purpose. In short, this was not a religion about God. God was their whole life, and their lives were shared with one another.

It was the lifestyle of these mostly nameless individuals that attracted so many of the early converts. That lifestyle was based on unity, sharing and prayer. Our contemporary world, so much in need of new life and renewal, could learn much from their wordless testimony.

A second shot at life — starting over, learning from the mistakes of the past — this has been the plot for many science fiction stories, mostly with unhappy or disastrous endings. But according to the letter attributed to Peter, a new life is exactly what we receive when we give our hearts and minds to the Lord. New birth is a consistent theme in the New Testament: it is necessary to be reborn from above in order to see the Kingdom of God and we must become as little children. The risen Lord offers us hope and joy even in this life by a promise of a transcendent life in heaven freed from all corruption, pain and suffering. But the road to that heavenly home is not smooth, for it will involve testing, trials, struggle and sometimes pain. Our eternal identity is being forged in the experiences that this world offers. But this is not some sort of grim, joyless asceticism. Faith and love for the one who calls us is the motivating force, as well as the joy of knowing what awaits us.

After rising from the dead and appearing before His stunned disciples in the midst of the locked room all Jesus can say is “peace be with you.” But what a greeting, for “shalom” also means wholeness, harmony and health. It is the peace promised by Jesus after the last supper — the peace that the world cannot give. The peace that Jesus gives refers to our relationship with God, and He delivers that peace by breathing the divine spirit into His followers. True peace consists in knowing and being totally in harmony with God. Fear, violence and sin vanish in the face of this divine peace. It is the elusive peace for which humanity searches frantically but it will continue to slip from our grasp as long as God is left out of the equation. After the giving of the spirit Jesus commissioned His followers to bear that same spirit of peace to the world — to continue His mission of reconciliation.

Thomas’ doubt and demand for physical proof calls to mind our mania for historical verification of the person and mission of Jesus. We are assailed by a torrent of books and films that “prove” or “disprove” so many things about Jesus. Sometimes our demands are too high: unless I know the very words of Jesus and that every word of the Gospels is literally true, I cannot or will not believe.

If our faith depends on proof, exactitude and the complete absence of ambiguity, it will be battered about like flimsy branches in a storm. But an open-hearted response to the spirit of God bypasses so much of this. Faith is a living relationship, not an acceptance of doctrines and creeds. Blessed are those whose faith comes from within and who do not rely on others to tell them what to believe.

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