“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” Jesus told his disciples at what was to be his last meal with them. It would be a fleeting peace, however, as within hours he was arrested, tortured and executed, and he knew that. Of course, as things got dangerous, all of his disciples abandoned him, even supposedly “loyal to the end” Peter.
Scripture tells us that Jesus appeared to these very same disciples a few days later as they huddled fearfully in the upper room. I know what I would have said to these so-called friends if they had bailed out on me like that!
But what did Jesus do? He did not yell at them, or point his finger, or express anger, or chew them out for their lack of faith. No, he simply said, “Peace be with you.” This is worth a deeper look.
What is this peace of God? How do we get it? What is this serenity Jesus promises to his believers, a gift that only God can give? How do we find peace in this anxious and dangerous and violent world? Do we have to go on a retreat to the mountains or the seashore, or step into a closet and shut the door? We all know that doesn’t work, at least not for very long.
The first step to a life of peace is to realize and accept that we are loved with a love that has no limits, no conditions, no criteria, and no requirements other than to receive it. We struggle so hard each day to feel worthwhile and constantly compare ourselves with others in that effort. We carry around burdens we should let go of, and we refuse to pick up what we ought to be carrying.
C.S. Lewis maintained that fallen human beings are not imperfect creatures who need improvement, but rather we are rebels who need to lay down our arms. He said, “Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and being ready to start life over again from the ground floor — that is the only way out of this hole. The process of surrender, this movement full speed astern, is what Christians call ‘repentance,’ which can only happen when there is brutal self-awareness.”
Laying down our arms is where that peace of God begins, and it builds in us as we, like Jesus, live in loving obedience to God in heaven on a daily basis, that Great Commandment to love as a way of life.
Easy? No, and that is why it is so rare to see, but when we do see it, we are deeply moved.
God’s peace is in no way related to an absence of trouble. Indeed, the peace of God can exist in the middle of earthly tribulations. If we do not experience it, it is because of what we have put in the way. It has nothing to do with other people. It has nothing to do with the circumstances of our lives and whether or not things are going our way.
The peace God offers us has to do with our personal relationship with his Son. It rises up from a place deep within us as soon as we face the truth of our own sinfulness, give up our fascination with the sins of others, and dedicate our lives to the service of others the best we can. The peace then comes as Jesus promised. I can’t explain why that is because I don’t know. It just does.