“Peace be unto you.”
Our Lord, risen from the dead, enters the locked room where His disciples are in hiding, and greets them with these words. We need to consider what these words mean, for He also greets us, as we gather here to remember and celebrate His resurrection. He is in our midst, as He entered into the midst of them on that day; and we are meant to receive His peace, and bear it to each other, and to the world.
What is “peace?” It has a number of meanings. Probably the one we think of first is the absence of war, or an end to fighting. Nations that have been at war make peace, and put an end to the war; persons who have been fighting with each other settle their differences, and make peace between them. “Peace” can also describe a state of public order and well-being; persons can be arrested for “disturbing the peace.” “Peace” is also a synonym for serenity; we sometimes speak of being at peace within ourselves, and we sometimes notice when, in the midst of turmoil and trouble, there are those who seem undisturbed by what is going on around us, and we may envy the state of peace in which they seem to dwell. But what is our Lord speaking of when He greets His disciples, saying, “Peace be unto you?”
First of all, He is saying to them, “Do not be troubled.” Consider the circumstances: His disciples are in hiding for fear of the Jews; and the One Whom they had followed had been put to death on the Cross – and now, suddenly, He has entered into a locked room into their midst! Were they seeing a ghost? And so He tells them to be at peace, and not to be disturbed in body, mind, or spirit, by what has happened, or by what is happening.
Once the shock of His appearance (and the manner by which He accomplished it) had passed, His words would also, undoubtedly, have reminded them of His conversation with them on the night He was betrayed, when He said, “Peace I leave with you; My own peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Later, in that same evening, He also said to them, “These things I have said to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world, you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer – I have overcome the world.”
And now, His work is completed. Risen from the dead, He has trampled down death by death. Death no longer has a claim on Him – or on those who dwell in Him by faith. Death has no power over Him; nor does death have any power over us, if we live in Him, and He in us. The world lives in fear of death, and death is in the world. But in the Kingdom of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, there is no death. He has brought peace to those who struggle with the fear of death.
Of course, the wages of sin is death, as St. Paul teaches us. Each of us who has sinned deserves death as our “reward” – and we are all sinners. On one level, when we sin, we rebel against God; and so are at war with God, as we seek to establish the ability to rule ourselves, rather than being ruled by God. It is a war we cannot win; but we fight desperately, all the same. But Christ has come, and offers to us a way of peace, a way to cease fighting against God. Though we have been, or still are, enemies of God, He has come to make peace – and all we need to do is accept His terms: to accept His love for us, and His death on our behalf, and to allow Him to guide us in our lives, so that we may enter into the joy of His kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, our Lord is here in our midst, and He greets us with peace, in peace. If we will hear Him, and follow where He leads, we will find that He has made peace for us with God; and set us free from the power of death, so that we can be at peace within ourselves, and live in peace with each other as well. Let us receive this great gift of love from our Lord and God; and let us share it with each other, and with all those with whom our lives interact. Let us be vessels of His peace, and bear it unto all; let us go in peace, to love an serve the Lord; to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.