LET US OFFER EACH OTHER A SIGN OF PEACE
Offering each other the “sign of peace” is something you have done countless times, if you are a regular participant at Mass (unfortunately, this gesture is non-existent in the French-speaking churches in our diocese). Just prior to reaching our hand out for the hands of our neighbours at Mass, we hear the priest say this: 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 graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. The part in parenthesis, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” is found only in the Gospel of John. It is part of what we traditionally call the “farewell discourse.” Spanning chapters 14-17 inclusive, it’s the longest good-bye speech I can think of. It’s a sort of I-have-to-go-but-I-want-to-stay dialogue that comes right from the heart. When you think of it, it’s really quite amazing given the context. Jesus is within 24 hours of facing a kangaroo court of lies, deceit, abandonment, torture, and a violent crucifixion, but what is uppermost in his mind are the people (you and me by extension) around the Table. He wants to leave us his peace. More than that, he wants to give us his peace. In the New Jerusalem translation of the Bible, Jesus says, “Peace I bequeath you.” Wording like that makes it sound like we are waiting to hear what Jesus will give us or bequeath us in the will…ahead of his own death!
To make it even more remarkable, for me, is that Jesus is at peace so close to his own, unjust death. That very peace within him, that is filling him at that moment, he wants to give it to you and me. In Matthew (26:30) and Mark’s (14:26) version of the Last Supper, it says that immediately after the meal was done, Jesus lead his Apostles in singing psalms before leaving for the Garden of Gethsemane. It leaves me asking: What was bursting forth in Jesus that is almost totally absent in me? Knowing my life was about to end cruelly tomorrow, I don’t think I would be full of peace and offering it to others as my final wish. I would be calling a lawyer. Singing psalms would definitely not be at the top of my list of “things to do” either. Jesus’ ability to bring harmony to others even when dealing with such inner conflict within his own heart never ceases to amaze me. Offering peace to my neighbours at Mass can never be just an inconsequential or frivolous gesture; it wasn’t for Jesus.
Part of the same sentence where Jesus says, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” continues this way, “my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” Wow! What’s wrong with the peace the world gives? Firstly, it’s often conditional. You have to cut deals and sometimes even “sell your soul” for it. Or you have to come on bended knee and plead your case about why you deserve it. There’s nothing like that in Jesus. Secondly, the peace the world offers usually isn’t lasting as much as we would like it to be. History is full of broken promises, deceptive treaties, and feeble truces fraught with hidden agendas. Jesus’ peace is backed not with words but with integrity. When he offers his peace, I don’t think it’s just for this particular moment. I think Jesus’ words are the forerunner of an ultimate peace that we’ll only know fully at the end of time. In the meantime, we are to be ambassadors of Christ’s peace wherever we go. Perhaps our rallying cry during Advent isn’t only “Come, Lord Jesus” but “Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us your peace.”
When we say “Peace be with you” or “The peace of Christ” we are not offering our own peace but Christ’s peace, a peace the world cannot give. With the sign of Christ’s peace, we are saying with our bodies that we hold dear the One who is our peace. We are believing with our bodies that the barriers between us have been broken down, the divisions are undone, the ruptures repaired. We are pledging to leave this place and spread this peace of Christ to the sidewalks, the supermarket aisles, the hospitals, the classroom, the homeless shelters, the boardroom, the garage, the daycare, and the nursing homes.
Jesus didn’t give us his gift of peace in order for us to dig a hole and preserve it there; he gave it to be shared. If there was ever a time the world needed genuine, lasting peace…the kind that only Christ can give…it’s now. Turn to the person next to you, in front of you, behind you. Clasp hands or hug that person as you would embrace Christ himself, for indeed that is what you are doing.