Christ the King-Epiphany Church Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022 John 14:23-29
Here’s a sobering statistic: According to historians Will and Ariel Durant, over the past three and a half millennia – that’s back to 1450 BC, which was the traditionally accepted date of the Exodus – in the past three and a half millennia, there has been at least one war in 92 percent of those years. That means that war is one of the constants of history, regardless of the advancement of civilization, regardless of the spread of democracy. Why is world peace so elusive? Although billions of people want to live in peace and never see the death and devastation war can bring, it takes only one person – in 2022, it’s Vladimir Putin – to shatter that hope for peace.
It also takes only one unexpected event or one aspect of our neatly ordered lives to go wonky to shatter our personal peace and drive us into a state of chaos and fear. It might be an unexpected event like a health scare or a security threat. It might be an impossible deadline or an unreasonable expectation. It could even just be the realization that time and resources and energy are finite, and therefore limited quantities that destroys our personal peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” said Jesus to his disciples. And the disciples must have said, “Yes, please!” Because they knew that their relative peace was about to be upended. It was the night of the Last Supper. Jesus had just spoken of his impending death and his soon-to-be-achieved departure from this world. I’m sure that they were feeling uncertain, confused, nervous, anxious, and even afraid. Knowing their inner turmoil, Jesus said to them: “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.” But how could anything Jesus said have brought them peace – especially when they knew, as all of us do, that it only takes one thing to get out of kilter to disrupt our sense of peace? And Jesus’s absence would have been just about the biggest disrupting factor they could have imagined.
Perhaps that is why here, in this same passage, we hear for the first time about the way that Jesus will be present with them and with us, even after his departure: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” It is through the Holy Spirit that we can know the presence and the peace of Christ. Sometimes the Holy Spirit makes Christ present for us through a feeling of confidence and security that starts deep within us and radiates outward. At other times the Holy Spirit makes Christ present for us through the power of prayer – our own and also the prayer of others for us. Sometimes the Holy Spirit helps us to know the peace and presence of our Savior through God’s word and through the sacraments – our remembrance of our baptism and our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, both of which connect us to God. At other times the Holy Spirit helps us know the peace and presence of the Lord through the body of Christ – our connections with one another, as well as with God. In all these ways, even in the presence of troubles and worries and fears, the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ brings us peace.
Jesus’ peace is different than the world’s peace. The world’s peace is conditional, fragile, and temporary. But the peace of Christ is unconditional, withstands all pressures, and lasts forever. His peace takes away anxiety and fear – not by removing whatever it is that is making us anxious or fearful, not by taking the negatives away – but by allowing us to endure in spite of the negative forces and pressures upon us. We usually assume peace to mean the absence of something negative – the absence of war, or strife, or anger, or worry, or fear. But Jesus’ peace isn’t about the absence of anything – it’s about his presence.
I read a story about a man who was seeking a painting that depicted peace. He announced a contest and issued a challenge to artists to produce such a picture. When the day came that the paintings were to be judged, the viewers clapped and cheered as one by one, the judges uncovered many beautiful, serene and peaceful scenes. Eventually there were only two pictures left. As a judge pulled the cover from the first, a hush fell over the crowd. Painted on the canvas was a mirror-smooth lake reflecting lacy, green birches under the soft colors of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore of the lake, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely, thought the crowd, this painting would win. But there was one more painting to be revealed. When it was uncovered, the crowd gasped in surprise. A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky cliff. You could almost feel the cold, penetrating spray. Gray-black clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind, and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a small tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. In the elbow of one of the spindly branches, a mother bird sat on her nest with her eyes closed, sheltering beneath her wings a brood of little ones. This is the painting that won the contest. Because only this painting showed true peace – not through an absence of turmoil, but through the transcendence of that turmoil.
The peace that Jesus gives is not about the absence of war or strife or anger or worry or fear. His peace comes from his presence with us. And nobody, no unexpected events, nothing can take it away. It is God being with us which empowers us to say that our hearts are not troubled, nor are we afraid. Because we have peace.
Berit Kjos, https://bible.org/illustration/perfect-picture-peace