May Peace Be Upon You
Gospel: John 14:23-29
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22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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. 27Peace 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. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
May Peace Be Upon You
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I remember the shock of seeing him in the mirror. I liked him. It was the first time. I was fifty. Sometime around then, one of my children took a photo of me, the first one I ever liked. I began, in those years, to value and enjoy life, rather than live occasional days or weeks of distraction and temporary forgetfulness of all the self-hate and alienation. I realised one day that I was 'at home' in the world; I belonged; it was my place; it was good; I was no longer defined by alienation and pain.
We forget. We sleep securely in our slavery. (Carole Etzler) The money inures us a little— buys us some anaesthesia, we find others to look down upon, and we forget, or do not begin to see, just how much we are driven by the world, and what it has done to us. But every so often, the Spirit gives us eyes to see: last week, when I made a dopey mistake, I exclaimed, "Oh Andrew," with an emphasis on the syllables which I had not heard since childhood. I knew the voice at once, and recognised an undefined pain which is still too hard to begin to explore. The world comes into our kitchen and owns us and gives us no peace at all; it only tells us where we must go. We have simply forgotten this, most of the time, or become used to it... or not yet woken up.
When I saw myself in the mirror that first time it was not some miracle healing, not a moment which changed everything. It was a moment of recognition that things had been changed. It was the beginning of seeing, with a new clarity, the peace the world cannot give. It was clarity and recognition of the 'given / able-to-be-seen' that is described in the reality that Jesus' poetry addresses:
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words...
There is a consequence of a discipleship which seeks to be obedient to the little amount, and the less consequence, of 'Follow me' which we understand. There is a consequence of not following. And God gives and graces us regardless. None of it is deserved. None of it can be achieved; we only realise later what has been given, and it can take years to see.
Where is my desire? Etzler1 wrote in her song
Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn't been opened,
Just for an hour how sweet it would be
Not to be struggling, not to be striving,
But just sleep securely in our slavery...
I desire freedom. But I know, too, why the voice cried, "Oh... An-drew!" For just now I am being offered a slight increase of territory, a new area of freedom, an expanded life. And the world, the not-peace part of me is reacting with terror: stay safe, don't leave, be careful. Listen to us! You are ours, you belong here. Do as you are told!
The mystery is that Grace and Spirit find our doors opened by the smallest desire for freedom, and never tire of waiting.
The peace that Jesus leaves and gives is entry into life as it should be. It is the journey into the life God has imagined and desired for the fullness of human living— for all-people-just-the-same. A life lived in harmony with all people and with the planet; that is, Jesus' peace is the good, harmonious creation, being fulfilled. It is a healing of the wounding caused by human violence; a reality where one can look at the scars of the past and be thankful for, and at ease with, the gift of our healing, rather than being re-minded and re-traumatised by the evils done to us.
The peace that Jesus gives is a growing ability to live 'at home' in the world despite all its current alienation and suffering; an ability even in the time of terror to say, "But the Creation is good." It is the beginning of the hard won glory of living a life focussed upon the Christ instead living a life based in psychological reaction to the pressures around us. This is called free will.
Do you understand that the 'peace' the world gives— those fortunate moments of comfort and affluence when war is more distant— is only ever the uncertain faux security we get from being a slave who has submitted to the forces around us? Frances Schaeffer used to speak of "peace and personal affluence at any cost," and that peace is a slavery.
The peace Jesus gives is called living in the resurrection. It is called entering the Kingdom of Heaven which is not yet, but which is now.
The problem with our culture is that we grant reality to correspondence2. There has to be a solid, definable, 'provable' material reality for something to be 'real.' And so we are programmed, although we mostly don't notice it, to look for the meanings of western culture in John's Gospel. This is why John is so hard to 'understand.' He is not speaking about our shallow correspondence based 'reality.' He is speaking of the deeper reality which we can only approach through contemplation, poetry, art, and the gospel; the reality of living and reflecting upon, and desiring— giving ourselves to, that ultimate beauty which can be called Glory. So, this week, I cannot explain John 14. I can only witness to the reality of it. I can only say, "Yes! I have felt this too!" The peace the world cannot give has to be lived rather than 'understood.' Or, at least, lived... before we can begin to describe it.
May peace be upon you. Andrew Prior (2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
1. I first met Carole Etzler's song in A Map of the New Country (pp195) by Sara Maitland.
2. But after the bifurcation of mind and nature, an episteme structured around ‘identity and difference’ came to possess the Western psyche. The episteme that now prevailed was, in Rorty’s terms, solely concerned with ‘truth as correspondence’ and ‘knowledge as accuracy of representations’. Psyche, as such, became essentially introverted and untangled from the world. (James Barnes, "How the Dualism of Descartes Ruined our Mental Health.")
So the belief that scientific models correspond to how things truly are doesn’t follow from the scientific method. Instead, it comes from an ancient impulse – one often found in monotheistic religions – to know the world as it is in itself, as God does. The contention that science reveals a perfectly objective ‘reality’ is more theological than scientific.
Recent philosophers of science who target such ‘naive realism’ argue that science doesn’t culminate in a single picture of a theory-independent world. (Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, Evan Thompson "The Blind Spot" (The blind spot of science is the neglect of lived experience))