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Thought for the week - Pentecost

In the upper room, after His death and resurrection, the disciples encounter the ongoing reality of the living Jesus, and the whole world changes – not just theirs, but ours as well. When someone we love dies, we begin to idolise them – I don’t mean that in a negative way, but we carve memories out of hem in our hearts and minds which become a little removed, over time, from day to day reality, as they are no longer sharing in that with us, and maybe after some time has passed, we remember them as whatever the memory becomes. But not so Jesus, not so our faith and not so for the Apostles, as He is very much alive and in front of them, and He is very much alive and in front of us, too, which is why we must continually reject idolising Him and keep on living with Him in the present time that He calls us to. Jesus is not a memory who fades away but a person who stands before us and says ‘peace be with you.’

This is a peace that flows from the reality of what Jesus has accomplished for our sakes on the cross, and it is part of who he was, is and shall be forever – a sign of peace to a broken world. As He was broken on the cross, so we are broken by sin and find our healing in the healing and Ascension of His own body. And so it is a peace that speaks clearly to us and calls us to change. It is certainly not the peace that time brings, the slow healer, it’s a peace which is present, immediate and comes in the current encounter that we have with Him, and it stands or falls as we stand or fall before Him. ‘Peace be with you’ is not just the first thing the Risen Jesus says to His disciples: it is the second thing as well. Twice He bids them peace. Twice He makes is resurrected body, bearing its wounds, speak of peace.

His first greeting of peace is followed by his showing them his wounded hands and side. The first peace is the peace that stops us being afraid that here is maybe a ghost, or a hallucination. We are reminded that, as Pilate says, ‘ecce homo’ – behold the man. We are surrounded by the stuff of death – tablets to keep away what might kill us, waves that might engulf us, people who might turn on us, governments who might wage war at us, health warnings on everything to remind us, calories counted on menus to put us off. We can control the environment we are in to some extent, but death is always with us in one form or another. But Jesus has shown us His hands and His side. He is marked by death, but He lives. Death silenced him on the cross, but now he speaks to each man and woman.

We are brought this first greeting of peace by seeing His wounds, then. They show us that death is not the end and that He is not, therefore, dead. This does not mean that the guilt of the sin which had Him put to death is not upon us today – by no means, we still live in the world to reach paradise by amendment of life. But this peace is a healer, as His body, which has conquered death shows – life is no longer leading to death, but the revelation of what life is. Do not be afraid, be still, for in dying I have changed the meaning of your death, the Lord says to us.

But there is more to our faith than a calming of fear. The calming merely prepares us for another gift, as Jesus again says “Peace be with you’, and breathes on his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is not given to us to calm our nerves, but to enliven and energise. “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, those whose sins you retain they are retained.”

This second gift of peace is not an answer to death so much as an entirely new sort of human life, moving according to the inspirations and energy of the divine life. It does not just make us recipients of forgiveness and mercy: it inserts the us into the ongoing mystery of Jesus, real and present in our world forgiving sin, healing wounds and preaching the mystery of the kingdom. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It has brought us here, now, to this place so that we can effectively tell the world that death is not the end, and that life is found in the most unlikely of places - and that it is not us as individuals who matter, for Christ did not say ‘peace to you John’ or ‘peace to you Jane’ – but peace be with you all. Christ’s peace also brings us freedom from the desperate worldly fight to be loudest, or best.

Today we celebrate the full depth of the peace of Christ, the peace we are part of by belonging to each other in the Body of Christ. He, Our Lord, is not another memory from the past, handed on by a forgetful band of devotees. He is the present offer of grace to us by the Father in the Spirit. Peace be with you, he says to us today. Receive the Holy Spirit, so that through us the world will encounter the joy of forgiveness and hope which, one day, will give the world freedom.


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