Sunday 22 May 2022: Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Promise of Peace
Context: a congregation of recently arrived, English-speaking migrants from Hong Kong, many of whom have left family and friends behind and are unsure of what their future holds in the U.K.
Aim: to provide reassurance of Christ’s presence through the Spirit
As a young child, my father’s work required him to travel for weeks at a time. In the lead-up to each trip, I would be filled with sadness and ask him not to go. To soften the sting - and on the day of each departure - my father would beckon me to him at our front door and ask me to open my hands. In them, he would place something of incredible value to look after whilst he was away. It could be a silky, smooth pebble he found at the beach or an intricately folded origami bird. One time it was his favourite fountain pen. Whatever it was, he would ask me to treasure it until he got back. Whilst he was away, I would obediently keep watch over it, often turning it around in my hands thinking of my father before falling asleep at night. It would grant me peace until he returned.
JESUS’ PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Our Gospel reading finds us in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples - sometimes referred to as his last discourse - where Jesus informs his disciples that he will be going away. However, he will not be leaving them empty-handed. Jesus promises them that in his absence, an Advocate - the Holy Spirit - will be coming to them to teach and remind them of all that he has said to them.
Interwoven into the text is the statement about loving Jesus and keeping his commandments, which occurs three times (vv. 15, 21, 23). In each instance, there is the promise that this divine presence - the Holy Spirit - will come to those who abide by them. A parallel can be drawn between this and the demand of the covenant God of Sinai to be loved exclusively by his people and for his commandments to be obeyed. This is perfectly at home in the covenant language used at the Last Supper too. The promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is reserved for those who love Jesus and obey his commands.
JESUS’ PROMISE OF PEACE
Having reassured the disciples of the Holy Spirit’s coming, Jesus proceeds to offer them peace. He says quite literally: ‘peace I leave to you.’ The verb ‘to leave’ carries with it a sense of bequeathing. There is also some wordplay going on here with the traditional Hebrew salutation, ‘Shalom.’ In departing, Jesus says ‘shalom’ to his disciples; but his ‘Shalom’ is not the thoughtless salutation of ordinary men.
The peace that Jesus bequeaths is different to the peace offered by the world. It has nothing to do with the absence of warfare, nor an end to psychological tension. Neither is it just a sentimental feeling of well-being. The peace being given to his disciples is a gift that pertains to salvation.
Consistent with Jesus’ call to love him and keep his commandments, the theme of ‘peace’ is steeped in covenantal meaning. In Ezekiel 37:26, Yahweh says to Ezekiel: ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them.’ Ezekiel makes it clear that a key part of the covenant is Yahweh setting his sanctuary amid his people forever. Likewise, the covenant being created between Jesus and his followers involves his indwelling forever: an indwelling made possible through the Holy Spirit.
JESUS’ PROMISE TO US
The last two lines of verse 27 repeat the opening counsel of Chapter 14, that the disciples are not to be fearful or troubled at Jesus’ departure. This is reminiscent of Moses’ parting in Deuteronomy 31:8 where he says: ‘The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’
Every time my father went away for work, he would utter words of reassurance to me, urging me not to be afraid and to be confident of his return. As followers of Jesus - and like the disciples - we too can be confident of Jesus’ eventual return. In the meantime, he has bequeathed each one of us with his peace; a peace that comes from receiving the Holy Spirit into our hearts, through loving Jesus and obeying his commands. Whatever uncertainly lies before us, we can be assured that God’s presence is with us, now and forever.
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