Sunday, May 5, 2013

Easter 6

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
St. Augustine wrote, “Peace is so great a good that. . .
no word falls more gratefully upon the ear,
nothing is desired with greater longing,
in fact, nothing better can be found. . . .
just as there is no one 
who does not wish for joy,
so there is no one 
who does not wish for peace” 
(Civ. Dei 19.11-12).
Peace is something that we seek 
both as individuals and as societies.
When this promise of peace 
fell upon the ears of Jesus’ disciples
they must have heard it with great longing.
They, like us, longed for peace within themselves;
their hearts, like our hearts, were filled
with conflicting emotions and ideas and commitments
pulling them in a hundred different directions.
They, like, us, longed for peace in their society;
their world, like our world, 
was a dangerous, violent place,
scarred by war and injustice, hatred and oppression.
The promise of peace –
peace within themselves and peace among peoples –
must have fallen upon their ears
as something too good to be true,
yet also as a promise 
that they desperately wanted to believe.

Jesus’s promise of peace 
is something that we accept on faith,
on our belief that he will, as it says in our Gospel,
come to us and make his dwelling in us;
it is his presence within us 
that brings peace to our warring hearts.
Likewise, in our second reading, 
from the book of Revelation,
we hear the apostle John’s vision 
of the heavenly Jerusalem.
According to some interpretations, 
the name “Jerusalem” means “abode of peace.”
The vision of the heavenly Jerusalem 
is a vision of a world at peace.
And we are told that what makes that city 
to be truly an abode of peace
is not the beauty of its walls or gates or foundations,
but that fact that the Lamb of God 
dwells there with God’s people,
in their midst, as their light and their temple.
The promise of peace within us and peace around us
must grow from the promise of God’s presence with us.
Jesus’ promise of peace 
involves accepting the gift of God’s presence,
which allows us to heed Jesus’ command:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

But the peace of Christ involves 
not only accepting God’s gift;
it also involves giving something up;
it requires us to give up our desire 
to secure our own peace
by controlling people and situations.
To return to St. Augustine:
he says that peace is so desired by human beings
that even those who wage wars hope that, in the end,
their wars will bring peace.
He notes, however, that those who start wars 
do not simply want peace;
they want peace on their own terms, 
a peace “that suits their wishes,”
a peace in which they can impose upon others
“their own conditions of peace” (Civ. Dei 19.12).
We want peace, 
but the peace that comes from absolute control.

This desire for control shows itself
both in our social relations and in our inner lives;
we not only want to bend others to our will,
but we also want to master ourselves
by making ourselves fit into some ideal image
that we have dreamed up
rather than simply being 
the person God has called us to be.
We not only wage war against others,
we wage war also against ourselves
in the hope that we can defeat and subjugate 
our own internal conflicts.
True peace, however, is never simply 
the suppression of conflict,
whether this is a matter of imposing our will on others
or trying to deny the conflict within ourselves.
True peace involves emptying ourselves 
of our own agenda,
because unless we do so
there is precious little room for Christ to dwell with us
and our hearts remain troubled and afraid.

“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
This happens in many different ways.
Christ dwells among us 
in the form of the poor and the needy,
or those who show us love, 
or those who try our patience.
Christ dwells within us 
when we find our hearts moved by love
or by the miracle of healing and forgiveness.

Perhaps most of all, 
Christ dwells among us and within us
is the sacrament of the Eucharist.
To return one last time to St. Augustine,
he wrote of the Eucharist: “at [Christ’s] own table,
the sacrament of our unity and peace
is solemnly consecrated” (Sermon 272).
In the Eucharist we gather around the altar of the Lamb,
leaving our agendas and desire for control behind,
and receive the living Christ into our hearts.
We eat and drink the peace that the world cannot give,
the peace given by the Lamb who bears our sins away.