Tumbling in the Sand
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” – John 20: 21-23
Peace. Something we seek for, seek after. And here is Jesus proclaiming to his disciples, proclaiming to us, peace. Peace be with you. I haven’t looked, but I suspect this peace that Jesus is proclaiming is the same as the shalom of Hebrew—this peace that is more than a shallow peace. A peace that also means wholeness, wellness, prosperity, completeness. Peace—it’s a deeper and richer thing than we generally think at first. It’s certainly more than some sort of meditative state of aloneness or the simple abstention of violence.
So we crave this peace. Actually, we crave this deeper sense of peace, a peace that is wholeness, wellness… But, how do we get peace? Or maybe better asked, how do we receive peace—or maybe experience peace? (since Jesus in another place (John 14:27) says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you”—implying that we don’t actually have to find it at all, but that it is already with us, whispering at us to be noticed, embraced, experienced.)
I think that beyond wishing his disciples peace, Jesus also gives them right here (and what follows with Thomas) a pretty good hint at the way that peace is actually experienced—an answer to our seeking. After all, it would seem kind of shallow, don’t you think, to wish them peace and then not actually give it to them? Wouldn’t that be the equivalent of James’ passage about wishing the poor be clothed and fed and not actually clothing and feeding them? In faith, words are not empty but alive with meaning and activity.
It seems like, if this is so then, from this passage in John, we might think that peace is about being sent. It’s not about staying in the upper room. It’s not about keeping to yourself. It’s not about maintaining the status quo. It’s about being sent—as the Father has sent me, so I send you. God’s peace is about having mission, purpose, and Spirit (which tends to not sit still, as it is also breath and wind—and I’ve never heard of a still wind).
Peace also seems to be about forgiveness, and along with that, peace is about freeing others. After all, forgiveness is about letting go, unbinding, and opening possibilities that had been shut off by misdeed, pain, and unjust act. And it seems that God’s peace is found in that very work. Of course, binding things seems to be an option that Jesus grants to us—but, if we are sent as Jesus was, I cannot recall a moment when Jesus did not forgive. It seems to deny our very purpose to not strive to unbind and grant freedom and the opportunity for just reconciliation wherever we possibly can.
And now comes the stretch. If Thomas has anything to tell us about this peace of God, then apparently peace is about not knowing. Thomas’ doubt is often condemned because we do not find it comfortable or conducive to peace—but, I think that is because we do not like to not know. We have the irresistible tendency to bind the world into understandable categories and definitions that let us be in charge. But doubt unbinds our categories. Doubt reminds us that we do not have it all figured out. Doubt questions our easy answers and makes us realize that we do not have the corner on truth.
So what does that have to do with peace? I think that by unbinding our categories and leaving us aware that things are beyond our understanding, doubt opens us up to faith—it suggests to us that we might find something beyond us and greater than we can understand. And I think that is some of what peace is about—a freedom to not be God, a freedom to live in wonder and awe. A freedom, perhaps, even to forgive.
Also, I think, doubt opens us to relationship. If we have no doubt, we have no need to be in relationship with others because we already have them all figured out. But doubt makes us wonder. Doubt leads us to question, to learn, to listen, to seek after. Doubt—doubt is what leads us to reach out to touch the wounds of another and in those wounds find God.