Life is complicated. Our tumultuous world and ever-changing circumstances can leave us drained and weary. Unexpected events take place that frighten us and challenge our world understanding. Even positive changes can leave us unsettled or uncertain. Into this chaotic upset, Jesus offers peace that passes our limited understanding, along with a glimpse of God in our midst.
You have to pity the disciples. They were, in the days right after Easter, confused and scared. The brutality of the crucifixion took away their dream of a Messiah. They were left with shattered dreams and painful doubts. Everything they had counted on had been ripped away — they had been thrown into a new land without a map or directions.
From our 21st-century perspective, of course, we have an advantage over the disciples. We are 2,000 years removed from the violent events of Holy Week. We know that Jesus’ story did not end on Good Friday. Here we are, during the Easter season. We have shared the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. We celebrate the glorious, mysterious events — we know about the rolled-away stone, the empty tomb and the neatly folded burial cloths. We have heard about the heavenly messengers who asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.”1 We know there is great reason to celebrate.
But those poor disciples! They were still lingering in the sadness of Jesus’ death. They had only heard rumors and confused descriptions of a risen Christ from breathless witnesses. They had received a jumble of reports that didn’t make any sense. Instead of thinking “resurrection,” they were concerned about grave robbing. Rather than rejoicing at new life, they were still grieving a sudden death, even as they tried to comprehend the announcement “The Lord has risen indeed.”2 Instead of rushing out to share life-giving good news, they seemed frozen in place, able to only talk about these recent, overwhelming events as they sought to gain some clarity. They were paralyzed by fear.
When Jesus does finally appear to them, the disciples still do not understand. We might expect them to immediately break out in praise and worship, but the opposite is true. They are “startled and terrified.” Instead of seeing a vision of new life, they believe they are looking at a ghost.
In that dramatic moment when Jesus appeared to them, they could not recognize the activity of God. This is important for us to keep in mind when we are searching for signs of God’s presence or “proof” that God is with us. During the chaos of our lives, we sometimes miss God altogether. God may be trying to speak to us, but we may not be able to hear or understand. It can be difficult to remember that God has promised always to be with us. We may not recognize God. Our first response when things go wrong or the unexpected happens may be doubt or panic or even terror.
This is nothing new. It’s always been that way — ever since Jesus was born (and even long before that, if we look in the Hebrew scriptures). The Gospel of Luke tells many stories of surprising God-encounters. Jesus enters into people’s lives, and those changes everything. Nothing seems familiar. It would be like any of us trying to drive somewhere new without a map or GPS. We can feel disoriented and even afraid.
When we open our lives to Jesus, he speaks to that fear with the gift of peace. The power of God’s peace is that it can reverse the initial effects of anxiety, isolation, suffering, doubt and loneliness. Just thinking about God’s peace changes everything.
The first time we see this is in the very beginning of Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is born. The angels announce his birth to the shepherds, who are “terrified”3 — there’s that word again! The shepherds have the same reaction at Jesus’ birth as the disciples have at Jesus’ death. The angels answer their fear with the words, “Do not be afraid.”4 These heavenly messengers reassure the cowering shepherds by singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.”5 That peace enables the shepherds to travel to Bethlehem to encounter God firsthand as he lies in a manger. God’s peace gives courage.
A few days after Jesus was born, that gift of peace was given to Simeon, an elderly prophet who had waited his entire life to see the Messiah. When infant Jesus was brought to the temple by his parents, Simeon rejoiced by saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.”6 His lifetime of yearning, waiting and searching finally ended in receiving the promised peace. Simeon could place himself in God’s hands, knowing that he would be safe. God’s peace gives comfort.
When a sinful woman dared to bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint him with oil, Jesus forgave her sins. She was then restored and made whole. She heard Jesus say to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”7 Her lifetime of suffering and shame was over. God’s peace heals.
Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. But he didn’t just heal her body. He gave her the additional blessing of comforting her soul. As he released her from the illness that had isolated her for years, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”8 God’s peace can soothe our weary souls.
That is the power of God’s peace — it can change lives. Again and again, we see Jesus encountering people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil and despair. He offers what is needed most — peace. During chaos, despair and fear, Jesus offers the gift that soothes their souls and touches their weary hearts. “Peace be with you,” he says to them. He comes offering the gift some do not even realize they need. Peace reassures, peace diminishes fear, peace allows us to relax so that God’s presence can be received.
As believers, we may yearn for the quiet certitude of faith. We might wish that our faith would guarantee a smooth, trouble-free passage through life. But the reality is that our lives are often tumultuous — unexpected events happen all the time. If our lives were taking place on an airplane, the “fasten seat belt” sign would appear with the warning, “Buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.” Unexpected twists and turns can fill us with uncertainty or fear or doubt. In those bumpy moments, we can look for this gift of peace that is found in Jesus’ unwavering presence.
Our lives are not static. Change happens all the time, and change is never easy. Sometimes we are like the woman who yearns for healing and then is overwhelmed when it takes place. She needs Jesus’ reassurance as she begins living with renewed health. Even when our change in circumstances is a happy one, like a much-anticipated baby or a new job or moving into a new home or starting a new school year, we can feel like we are in over our heads. In that moment, we yearn to be grounded in the peace Jesus offers.
It is perhaps even truer when we suddenly find ourselves stunned by events that change our lives. Just like the disciples, we can feel terrified. An unexpected death, the loss of a job or the betrayal of a friend can leave us feeling like we have lost our way.
Chaos and turmoil are all around us. We don’t have to look far to see people who need God’s peace. We see them on television every time there is a natural disaster. Think about the victims of a flood, fire, hurricane or tornado. We hear people say things like, “In that moment, I was terrified. I was afraid I was going to die.” Within minutes, their lives changed. Life will never be the same.
Precisely in such a moment, Jesus offers soothing peace and reassurance. He enters our turmoil and upset to remind us that we are not alone. Our circumstances may remain the same. We may live with the devastating consequences of loss and grief for months and years to come. Yet, Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always,”9 reminds us that we do not have to face turmoil on our own.
Sometimes we experience that peace that passes all human understanding through the words and actions of others. And sometimes others experience it through our acts of kindness. Jesus tells the disciples — and us — that we are called to be “witnesses of these things.” That’s when we can put the peace Jesus has shared with us into action for others.
Who do you know who is tired or afraid or doubting? Where have you witnessed despair or grieving? Who is “terrified” because they feel alone or lonely? Those are the situations where we are called to be bearers of Christ’s peace. That peace, the gift of loving kindness shared with us and passed to others, can change everything.
1 Luke 24:5.
2 Luke 24:34.
3 Luke 2:9.
4 Luke 2:10.
5 Luke 2:14.
6 Luke 2:29.
7 Luke 7:50.
8 Luke 8:48.
9 Matthew 28:20.