“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.” John 14:25-27
Early last Sunday morning I sat down to write my meditation aware that there would be little time to do so after arriving back at Volmoed. I was sitting in our hotel room in Basel, Switzerland, where Isobel and I attended the 12th International Bonhoeffer Congress, an event held every four years. The next one, I can now report, will be held in Stellenbosch in January 2020 in case you want to make a note in your diary! But that was not in my mind as I sat thinking about this meditation after almost three weeks of travel shared with Anton and Esther. But now, as the Congress came to an end, I reflected on our trip and some global events that had happened since we were last together here in the chapel sharing the peace of Christ with each other. Christ’s gift of shalom or wholeness, in a world torn apart by racism and violence, greed and war. Even in beautiful Collioure in the south of France where peace seemed to envelope us as each new day dawned, we could not escape the grim news of more gun violence on the streets of the United States,, terrorist bombings in Bangladesh, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere, and political strife back in South Africa.
So there I was sitting in our hotel room starting to work on this meditation. The window was wide open, the sun was shining brightly, and the birds in the garden were singing. It was Sunday, it was quiet, it was peaceful. It was like it so often is here on Volmoed and how it was later that morning as we listened to the splendid music and sermon in St. Peter’s church where our mutual Volmoed friend Benedict Shubert is pastor. No wonder my thoughts turned to Jesus words: “My peace I give to you!” I did not have to make this peace, it was a gift to receive, appreciate and share.
But when Jesus spoke these word, unlike me, he was not sitting comfortably in a Swiss hotel listening to the coo of pigeons nor was he in the temple listening to glorious music. He was on the harsh road to the cross. His words of peace, of shalom and wholeness, were uttered in the face of violence, at a time when the mood against him in Jerusalem had turned ugly, a time when hatred of the Roman occupation was at a height and the authorities were struggling to keep control. It was in such a context, so like our own, that Jesus said: “My peace I give to you.” It was not the uneasy peace which the authorities struggled to provide, imprisoning and crucifying rebels who threatened the established order, Jesus among them. Jesus’ gift of peace to his disciples was not the peace that the world either then or now tries to give its citizens. It was something far more, God’s shalom, a peace which passed human understanding in the worst of times. Therefore Jesus tells them that they should neither let their hearts be troubled, nor be afraid.
It is difficult to grasp hold of this gift of peace and not be troubled or afraid in a world of terror and violence. It has always been so. No sooner has one war ended, than another breaks out. No sooner has one agent of terror been eliminated than another arises. No sooner has one dreaded disease been conquered than another erupts. No sooner have our lives recovered from despair and grief, than we have to cope with further trouble and loss. The peaceful calm of a hotel room in Switzerland or of Volmoed on a Thursday morning is more often than not the exception rather than the rule. We give thanks for such times of peace, but it is in the midst of trouble and fear that Jesus’ utters his word of peace. For God’s shalom is not the same as security in a safe haven; it is not discovered by withdrawing from the world into some kind of religious sanctuary or ghetto, or avoiding the harsh reality of cancer or the loss of those we love. Jesus gives us peace on the road to the cross, in the midst of our struggle for justice or suffering. We receive Christ’s gift of peace, of shalom wholeness, anew each day as we seek to follow him faithfully amid of the troubles and problems we face, and especially when life seems to fall apart. That is why it passes all understanding. It is a gift beyond words, a gift without logical explanation. But those who accept it know that it is real.
Yet we do not receive Christ’s gift of peace in isolation from others, as though it is our gift to keep to ourselves rather than a gift to share with others. Christ’s peace is not a warm feeling that we treasure in isolation for fear of losing it; Christ’s peace is only received in sharing it with others. In order to know the peace of Christ we have to live in that peace with others, forgiving and loving them, enabling them to journey with us into wholeness. After all, it is not our peace, but Christ’s gift to us. So it is that we receive the peace of Christ as we commit to working together to oppose violence in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We receive the peace of Christ when we in turn become peacemakers, opposing the forces of evil that lead to hatred, violence and war. We receive Christ’s peace when we sit beside those who suffer pain and loss, helping them to know Christ’s peace. And we receive this peace when, week by week, we share the peace of Christ with each other at the Eucharist. To embrace and to be embraced in giving the peace is an affirmation of the gift which Christ offers us each day, a gift beyond understanding which the world cannot give. So let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 14 July 2016