Study: Reflect on a time in life when you experience a profound sense of peace. Where did it come from in your life?
Pray: Ask the Lord for the gift of his peace, and pray for the guidance to cultivate a peaceful heart.
Serve: How can you bring the Lord’s peace to another right now?
Every year we hear this Gospel reading from John on the Sunday after Easter. The Church, in its wisdom, has found that these verses continue to speak to our hearts in a way that moves and teaches us.
In the past I have reflected on Thomas; I can identify with his questions and sarcasm! I can easily understand how someone who can see and touch the risen Christ might still harbor doubts that he has been raised from the dead. In the past I have reflected on his doubt, largely because I could comprehend his words and actions.
Yet this year I am struck by something different. In this short passage Jesus says three different times, “Peace be with you” to his disciples. Why?
Imagine the feelings and emotions of the disciples. They had followed Jesus for three years. They heard the teaching and preaching. They saw the miracles and witnessed the healings. And they stood at a distance (having run for their lives) when the mob came and the soldiers crucified Jesus.
In those last few days before his crucifixion, they had experienced the entire spectrum of human emotion, and until the truth of the resurrection sunk in, they were adrift in their grief and loss.
So what are the first words of Jesus to them? What introduction is used to begin the new era of hope and power marked by the resurrection? Just four little words:
Peace be with you.
How desperately we need to hear these words! Peace – in our hearts, our homes, our country, and our world! The risen Christ fills our hearts not only with faith, hope, and love – but with a peace, a serenity that cannot come from anything else.
With this phrase Jesus calms their fears and soothes their concern. He gently and lovingly meets the disciples where they are, and he urges them (remember Thomas!) to grow in faith.
How do we take these words to heart today? In our desire to cultivate a peaceful heart, it is important to always remember the WHAT and the HOW.
“What” refers to the object of our desire. We seek peace: in the solitude of our heart; in our relationships with others; in the values and purpose of our lives. “What” we seek is the goal that orients the direction of our lives and provides a guide to keep us on track.
“How” refers to the manner we go about it. Do our thoughts, words, and actions consistently reflect our desire for peace? “How” we live is equally crucial, for it demonstrates the unified manner of our lives – nourishing and strengthening us by the constant reinforcement of our (peaceful) behavior.
“Peace be with you” becomes both the goal and practice of each moment: we strive for peace even as we diligently work to cultivate peace in our hearts. Jesus himself gives us the strength for both: he teaches us to value peace, and he sustains us to grow in peace when we are challenged by the discord and stress of life.
As the Lord’s followers, these words are our heritage. Peace begins in us, and as the disciples of the Prince of Peace, we are called to work for and build his Kingdom of Peace here on earth. Fear is left behind as we focus on Christ and dwell – in peace!