John 20 19:23‘Peace be with you’

Reflection by Anne Stewart

Last week we looked at a resurrection framework that, if allowed, can shape every day of our days.  A framework that speaks of unexpected joy, new life, and doors that open revealing previously un-thought of possibilities.  These things we should have confidence to expect, every day because of what happened on Easter morning.

In this country Easter precedes the time we set aside to especially remember those who have fought in the spirit of defending our freedoms.  I always find this time to be a little challenging, and maybe that’s the whole point.  I have a horror of war and am conscious of wanting to avoid any sort of glorification of war, while recognising the need to remember.  I am sure I am not alone in that.  The devastation that war inflicts is hard to think about; the effects of war are like ever-expanding ripples that leave no one fully intact.  The Falklands war and the current Russian attack on Ukraine are the closest I have consciously got to war and I know that for many of you the reality has been much closer and much more impacting on you and your families.  I am glad though, that we do mark this part of our reality.  I am glad because in being reminded, we are invited to remember to always seek peace for as long as we can, as a way through conflict. 

Last week we celebrated Jesus brought to new life and we looked at how that event changes all of our lives.  This week Jesus appears to his disciples, and scares the life out of them, understandably!  Those same disciples, it must be said, had just dismissed the witness of the women who met Jesus earlier as something they had ‘made up’ so they weren’t exactly prepared for the encounter.  So twice Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you”.  In one sense it is clear why these were his first words, he needed to calm them down, so he uses these words of reassurance.  I am interested in this peace he speaks of, this shalom.  Paul tells us in his letter to the people of Phillipi, (Phil 4:7) of a “peace that surpasses all understanding, [that] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.  This peace is part of the package that comes with the new age that God has promised, the kingdom of God.  Earlier in John’s gospel (John 14:27) as Jesus is reassuring the disciples about what is to come, he says, “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”.   Now when Jesus makes himself known to his disciples, post-resurrection, he still bears the wounds of what has gone on a few days before.  He bears the wounds of his earlier battle with evil where love overcame and because of this he can offer peace as a gift.  But the gift of peace is not simply a gift for them to store away and enjoy for themselves, they are to take on this peace and share this shalom into the life of the world.  As followers we too are sent into the world to share the peace that came from Jesus’ experience at Easter.  This is our mission.  To be bearers of peace in whatever life brings for us.  We are to be peace-makers; to show others the blessing of peace. 

We often think of peace as being the absence of war or conflict.  But peace in the Bible is not a negative thing.  Eddie Askew, in his book A silence and a shouting, quoting John Taylor describes peace, or shalom, as the ‘harmony of a caring community informed at every point by its awareness of God.’  This kind of peace embraces the whole of life and is worked out in a whole network of right relationships – it is the kingdom at work.  Shalom grows from our closeness to God, and seeps through all our relationships and attitudes.  Shalom calls for action – it’s a verb, a doing word.  Peace-makers are not the ones who relax in peace and ‘never do any harm’, but those who create peace.  When you meet someone who is critical of others, believing the worst, and operating out of harmony, you might like to ask yourself what it implies about the peace in their hearts and minds.  Askew suggests that such people might be more of a ‘walking civil war’, in constant conflict within themselves.

War, or any kind of conflict is confrontational though.  It disturbs us and it should.  Someone who we have watched die, appearing a few days later should also confront and disturb us!  Reaching for peace in such times is entirely reasonable.   Even thinking about war is a conundrum.  I would think that most of us will have ancestors who have fought, or who refused to fight, and others who have served in supportive roles, like ambulance driving or maintaining machinery. 

I am fortunate in that the closest it got to my family was one of my father’s brothers, who survived his time away but perhaps coincidentally died relatively young with heart issues.  My dad was only just too young to be called up for WW2 and then too old for later conflicts, thank goodness!  But it’s not just the deaths, no one plays any part in war without being damaged by it.  The fear of it, or the reality of it is in all of our ‘DNA’ because a war or conflict anywhere affects us all.  I hate the thought of it, especially when it comes down to an unprovoked act of greed.  Surely the energy would be better spent poured into learning how to live together and ensure everyone has enough. 

War and conflict are perhaps especially pertinent this year as we watch events unfold in Ukraine.   The nature and effects of war are played out every night on our televisions and the advances in technology now enable us to watch the devastation in almost real-time, as it plays out.  We are so connected nowadays that the old ‘over there’ thing we used to be able to dismiss conflict with, no longer applies.  The effects are on our doorsteps.  We have a neighbour in Totara Valley who came to NZ from Ukraine seven years ago.  She lived with us a bit while she was studying here in Christchurch.  We caught up with her recently and she told us about a couple she works with, the husband is Russian, the wife Ukranian – they are now only managing to live under the same roof by avoiding one another, one takes night shifts and the other day shifts, one listens only to Russian news and the other to Western news.  She also remarked wryly that she no longer has to explain to people where Ukraine is!  Another friend was doing some relief teaching in a nearby school and noted a wee girl with a pronounced accent, so my friend asked her what her first language was.  The little girl whispered that it was a secret, it was Russian but it was not safe for her here in Christchurch to name that, anymore.  It might be ‘over there’ but the tentacles of war can stretch a long way from the centre of the conflict!

I feel confident that Ukraine will be restored and it will heal, in time.  I say that because that’s what a resurrection framework convinces me of.  But that isn’t to deny the current gut-wrenching pain of loss and devastation.  It shouldn’t be happening, there’s no doubt about that!  But it is, and so we are left having to find a way through it.  Easter Sunday teaches us that the miracle of God is that God will use the very worst that life throws at us to bring new life.  God will take our utmost despair and use it to bring transformation.  While we should never go seeking it, the fact is, that we are arguably more usable when we are in the pit of despair than when we think we have life going nicely our way.  Those in the pit of despair may well struggle to see where God is at that point, yet the witness we know is that God is right there with them, crying with them, holding fast with them, or laying down with them if that’s all they have left.  And we too remember them, cry with them, celebrate when peace comes, and continue to hold them in prayer.

We are going to share with you now the poem the RSA have made their own, the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, often referred to as the Ode of Remembrance.  Apparently, the poem was composed as Binyon sat on a cliff-top looking out to sea from the north Cornish coastline in September 1914.  Binyon, himself, was too old to go to war but it is believed that he lost several close friends and a brother-in-law in the war. 

 E kore rātou e kaumātuatia

Pēnei i a tātou kua mahue nei

E kore hoki rātou e ngoikore

Ahakoa pehea i  ngā āhuatanga o te wā

I te hekenga atu o te rā

Tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata

Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.