Do you have times when you feel as though you just don’t get it? That you don’t understand? Then you feel afraid or anxious (just the sound of that word makes me feel, well, anxious). We’ve all had these moments—that tightness of the chest; the wondering if we’re loved or cared for; sure that we’re not. That feeling of missing something.
I think that in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is dealing with disciples who are experiencing just this. After all, he has begun to say farewell, knowing that his hour has come. Just before this, Simon Peter has asked, “Lord, where are you going,” wanting to know why he can’t follow Jesus now, and insisting that he will lay down his life for him. Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father—that will assure the disciples, will allay their fears. Then Judas (not Iscariot) questions Jesus about how he will reveal himself to the disciples, but not to the world; perhaps he is worried that he has missed some part of Jesus’ teaching. Uncertainty clouds their understanding, and their hearts are troubled. “What will we do after Jesus leaves us? His calm, reassuring presence will be gone.” The disciples do not get it; they can only see now and they’re scared. They do not trust—have faith—that God is present, and that God will continue to be present, even if Jesus is leaving.
In response, Jesus speaks some of the most poignant words in the Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you”—words that promise the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit; a gift greater than any worldly gift. A gift wrapped in the love of the Father. A gift designed to remind the disciples of the love of the Son. Jesus stresses, as he does throughout this chapter, the importance of keeping his word—the commandment he gives them: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love each other.” He says these things several times in a short space, according to the gospel; knowing that this is easier said than done; knowing that it is one thing to know it in one’s mind and another to feel it; to live it.
So simple; and yet, being human, anxieties and fears creep in, despite his words. Well, I’d like to remind us all that peace is not an abstract concept, as when we think about world peace; peace is simply God’s presence. And faith is not an object—something we keep in a box inside our minds. It is an action that is part of our relationship with God, whose words echo in the words of Christ, as he commands us to love one another. As one of the brothers from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist has said, “to have faith means to let go of anxiety and fear and to give ourselves over to God, trusting God’s love and care for us.” It may often be difficult to do, letting go of our anxieties and worries, and of being afraid, but with the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is always—always—possible. When offering God’s peace in a service, remember who offered it first, hear the echoes of God’s voice in our lives, and celebrate that gift by sharing it with others, and with yourself. Another John (and Paul) said it: “It’s easy.” Just let go, and let God’s love embrace you. Peace be with you. Amen.
given at the Trinity Center, Austin, TX