One of the many things that the war in Ukraine has taught us is how fragile peace is. It is not something that we can take for granted. The absence of peace affects us all. We long to see an end to the war in Ukraine, and all the other countries across the world that are beset by violence and tyranny. We long to see the whole of humanity living in peace and freedom. Our parents and grandparents fought and struggled that we might enjoy such things, and that struggle still continues today.
In the Welsh language there are two words for peace. The first, heddwch, means an absence of conflict, worldly peace. The second, tangnefedd, is the peace which comes from God. In the middle of today’s Eucharist I shall say the words, ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you.’ And receive the answer, ‘And also with you’. We call this section of the service ‘The Peace’. Jesus gives us the peace which comes from a relationship with God. This is the peace we enjoy as Christians, and was bought dearly by Christ’s death on the Cross. It is not just an absence of conflict, but the deep peace of being loved by God, and loving Him in return. It is the peaceful trust of a devoted relationship. Our attachments to family and friends are an echo of this closeness, because we are made in the image of God. Being filled with God’s Love, we become a church, a community of love, living out our faith, and sharing this deep peace with the world around us.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to His disciples after the end of the Last Supper, shortly before His Arrest. In a series of talks which begin in Chapter 13 and continue to the end of Chapter 17of John’s Gospel, Our Lord takes leave of His followers, offers them encouragement, and speaks about the future.
Jesus begins by explaining how God will make Himself known to the disciples.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (Jn 14:23-24)
Christians have a responsibility to keep God’s Word, to love God and each other. In turn, God promises to dwell with and in us. This is a promise of a close relationship. We experience this intimacy most fully in the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, where Christ gives Himself to us, so that we can be transformed by Him. Jesus promises us that the Father and the Son will come to us and make their home with us. We are invited into a close relationship, which enables us to experience the fulness of God’s love and His peace.
Then Jesus makes further promises to the disciples:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (Jn 14:25-27)
As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven we also look forward to the Sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christ rises and ascends so that we can receive the Spirit, and experience the fulness of new life in Christ. God sends the Holy Spirit so that we may be filled with love, and share that love with others. The Spirit helps us to keep close to the Father and the Son, in a profound relationship which allows us to flourish.
Christ gives to His disciples, and to all who follow Him, a deep, genuine, peace in our souls. As I have already mentioned, we share this Peace with each other in the Eucharist. It is a gift from God. The Peace of Christ reconciles us to God and to each other. It was bought on the Cross, paid for in Blood, and is a sign of the victory of the Resurrection as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Peace is something that has to be worked at. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles there is some disagreement between the early christians, but they come together and decide on a course of action:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15: 28)
These words are important, as they show that the apostles faced difficulties and prayed about what do. Their chosen course of action was the will of God, and met with human approval. It is a sign of their peace and unity. Christ’s Church was both for Jews and Gentiles. There was no need for non-Jews to convert to Judaism first. The men did not need to undergo circumcision. This decision by the Early Church helped the Good News to spread more easily, allowing billions of people to know the peace of Christ.
Christ’s peace also gives us a foretaste of the life to come. In the Book of Revelation, St John has a vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, prepared as a bride for Christ. It is a vision of the Church Triumphant, built on the foundations of the apostles, and filled with God’s glory.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22-23)
John shows us the perfection of God’s Creation, in this image of Heaven. It is a place where the Glory of God provides illumination, and the lamp which holds the light is the Lamb. In other words, the Lamb, who is Christ, perfectly displays the glory of God. Jesus shows us who God is, and what God’s glory is like. He promises us Peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
May we therefore be filled with the Peace of the Living Lord, through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.