The Peace of Christ

May 31, 2004

ON MAY 30 we mark the end of the Great 50 Days of Easter with the Feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the infant church. The ending takes us back to the beginning, as one of the gospel readings for the day relates the risen Christ’s encounter on the first Easter Day with his apostles in the upper room.

We are told in John 20 that, having come among them, the risen Christ greets them with the word “Peace,” then proceeds to breathe the Holy Spirit upon them. The Gospel of John situates the giving of the gift of the Spirit in the midst of the mystery of the resurrection. It is through the Spirit that the Resurrection takes hold upon us and draws us into an ever-unfolding, ever-enlarging process of growth and discovery.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples that he has many more things to tell them, but they cannot bear them now. He then goes on to say that when the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will enlarge their understanding of truth by drawing from what is of Christ and making it known to them. The depth of Christ’s consciousness, along with its expansiveness and capacity to draw all things to itself in an enduring and deathless bond of love, is more than we can possibly understand or weave into our own limited consciousness.

And this can present a problem for us: Because Christ’s truth is limitless, it can be extremely threatening. Limits and boundaries make us feel secure and give us our “place” in the world. Much of our sense of who we are is derived from our being able to distinguish ourselves from others.

And yet, it is precisely at the limits and boundaries that the Spirit is most often to be found, tugging and pulling us beyond our securities and our limited notions of truth. Yielding ourselves to the Spirit involves risk because we cannot be sure in advance of where we will ultimately be led. And yet, as we go forward we discover that we have been given a confidence and courage that comes not from us but is the consequence of the Spirit of Christ working in us.

The peace the risen Christ bestows upon his closeted and fear-filled disciples is not “the peace of world” but peace of an entirely different order.

The peace of Christ is an energy driven by love that reorders all things according to God’s desire, not our own. The peace of Christ can be experienced not as peace but as a sword – piercing and sundering our tidy structures of righteousness and truth that protect us from the authentic and demanding motions of the Spirit.

Peace at its deepest and truest is not a human construction. It is what God already has accomplished in Christ, who, as Paul tells us, is our peace. Our work then consists of removing the obstacles obscuring the peace that already exists rather than creating something new. It is the fact that Christ is our peace that gives us confidence and the ability to endure in the face of situations in which peace is palpably missing.

We often think of peace as the absence or containment of conflict, and yet it is often through conflict that the peace which is of God emerges. It is instructive to remember that the inclusion of gentiles in the early church was not achieved without difficulty, and it was only because the Holy Spirit descended upon those who were considered alien to God’s law that the church was forced to reinterpret its Scriptures and alter its understanding of God’s ways. Thus it has always been: the peace which is of Christ can unsettle and challenge our notions of God and how God should or ought to act in our world.

Nothing is off-limits to the Spirit because ultimately everything and everyone is caught up in the Peace of Christ. And, therefore, the Spirit’s ceaseless activity is to break down and overrule every structure and every attitude that sets us one against another, or allows us to discount as alien to God’s love those who differ markedly from us.

So, as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, so carefully contained within our liturgical structures, we need to be aware that the Spirit can always break loose and create chaos both within the church and in the world around us. Let us rejoice that the peace of Christ enables us, over time and with patience, to find meaning in that apparent chaos.

May the peace of the risen Christ be with you.