SHALOM

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

[John 14:27 NRSV]

Monday, February 28 was my final day as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. It was a gratifying experience that I will forever treasure. I was inspired by the dedicated staff and their exemplary commitment to the ministry of care for the people and pastors. Each Monday we gathered electronically for a weekly meeting. We usually began with a devotion. The morning of my final day among them, I woke up early with the word “Peace” on my mind. As I considered what to say to them, the word just wouldn’t let me go. So, what follows is a reworked version of what I shared with them for our devotional time.

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When I was in my last parish call, I would preface the sharing of the peace with the words of Jesus to his disciples from the Gospel according to John:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

I confess that I may have been slightly influenced by what Roman Catholic priests say just prior to the sharing of the peace: “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,’ look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” [“Prayer for Peace,” from the Roman Missal]

Jesus’ words are part of what we know as his “Farewell Discourse,” which begins with the first verse of chapter 14 and goes on to the end of chapter 16. So, for three chapters Jesus spends a great deal of time preparing the disciples for the coming events of his death, resurrection, and ascension. 

This week we begin the Lenten season. Throughout these next six weeks we will hear several readings in which Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his departure. He has not kept them in the dark about this fact. But knowing he will be leaving them soon and understanding what that meant for them personally were probably two different things.

In these few words from John’s Gospel, he offers them a gift of profound importance. This is not a wish, but words of affirmation, an assurance of his continuing presence, a gift to carry wherever they go, and a destination to long for.

He gives them a good-bye greeting which they can continue to use, wherever they are, reminding themselves of his love. Don’t be troubled; don’t be afraid, Jesus says. Let this word hold us together: Peace.

Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. In the world, people can greet you as you come and go, but the greeting Jesus asks us to use, shalom, brings with it the understanding that peace and wholeness is not something which just anyone can give. It comes from a relationship with Jesus, the one who has given you acceptance and forgiveness in God’s eyes. From this perspective you are whole, complete, accepted, forever. When you say “Shalom” to one another, when you use this gift, remember who you are – God’s people forever.

This is what Jesus was telling them. My “shalom” is different.

It needs to be interpreted first in a communal aspect – the way people get along with one another, rather than in an individual sense of inner tranquility. It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus’ name, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 

All the words in this context are meant to be comforting, supportive, affirming. Jesus is telling the disciples before he leaves them so they will understand it all when he’s gone. It’s like a hug to those who are anxious, a bold and generous embrace.

And as we look on these words and read them through the lens of our own questions, our own doubts, our own anxieties, and our own fears, I wonder, is there something for us here?

Is there a way in which we who have become Christ’s own body as the church can touch and affirm each other to assure that God’s presence still surrounds us when we are feeling alone or abandoned?

I’m thinking this morning of the people of Ukraine, what does their Shalom look like as they are being invaded by Russia and no one seems to be rushing to their aid?

Or our legislators? What does their Shalom look like in light of all the partisan bickering that goes on in Washington and in state and local government?

What about our churches? What does their Shalom look like while some tear away at the joy of worship and mission by going their separate ways and others redirecting mission support dollars? (I remain especially troubled by the recent events in the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA and the subsequent fallout that resulted.)

You can carry that question down to communities, neighborhoods, families…what does their Shalom look like?

Let me give you my take on it. And this is my parting gift.

In the face of the chaos of rejection of God in the world, we are called to be people of peace. I happen to be foolish enough to think that Shalom, Peace, can happen all over the place because we are made in the image of God. We serve as the dwelling places for God. We are made for peace and we long for peace and we then work for peace.

Peace is a mark of true discipleship that is required of all disciples – then and now.

As we prepare for the Lenten season, I want to remind you of three things that God has given us to equip us to be peacekeepers during our earthly journey.

God has given us the Church, the body of God’s fellowship where we hear the word and receive the sacraments, signs of God’s gracious love, God’s means of grace, to be strengthened and encouraged.

God has given us the Holy Spirit, the present tense of God, through which God sustains us and reminds us who God is.

And finally, God has left us each other, imperfect as we are, to carry on God’s mission in the world and remind each other who we are and whose we are.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 

Amen

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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