Tuesday at the All-School Mass, I asked the children about peace—what is peace? This is a complicated question: what is peace and how do we attain it? Several answers were given: the absence of war, the lack of conflict, a place with no violence…
This caused me to think: what is peace? Can we really only describe it in terms of violence or war? Peace is the exclusion of bad things? Is this really what Jesus must have meant or is there something more going on here?
In our world suffering the effects of sin, we are exposed to war and violence on a daily basis. You can't watch the news for 5 minutes without hearing of some terrible outbreak of violence somewhere: think of the awful story of those Lacrosse players in Virginia, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bomb plot in New York: bombs, war, violence, murder, rape, you name it we see it on the nightly news.
Think also of the conflicts we face on a smaller scale. Just the drama of our daily lives counts here: dysfunction in families, conflicts at work or at school. There is even conflict in our hearts: we struggle with our sins and our temptations, everybody's got them.
When we think about all this conflict, peace starts to sound like a pipe dream. It starts to sound quaint and unrealistic, like a Miss America Pageant response to a question. How can all this conflict cease, what would be left if conflict did cease?
We define peace as the absence of conflict and yet conflict seems as though it will always be with us: where do we go, to whom do we turn? Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives do I give peace.
Jesus may have been referring to the Ancient Romans, who were famous for bringing peace in the form of armies: they would crush an opponent into surrender and establish peace as the absence of conflict, peace by the sword.
Jesus does not give peace in this way, his peace is established on the cross. Rather than establish peace through force, he brings peace through suffering; rather, than killing, Jesus dies. Through this death he rises to new life. From his wounded side pours out blood and water, baptism and Eucharist, his precious gifts of grace which bring us into communion with Christ, which give us peace.
The peace of Christ is not the absence of violence or conflict. The peace of Christ is not the absence of something bad, it is the presence of something good. It is the presence of Christ himself in our lives, it is the precious gift of grace making us more like Christ. It is this presence that we turn to in our times of conflict and turmoil. If we allow the peace of Christ to rule in us, Jesus will help up to deal with all the conflict we face in our daily lives. But, even more, if we let this peace rule within us, this peace will extend even into the world. It might seem a bit Pollyannaish to dream of world peace, but we this must be our dream, our hope. It starts with each one of us and will extend even beyond us.
I would like to finish up by calling your attention to the second reading. Here we hear what peace looks like in the end, this is the completion of peace, where all this is going. This is the coming of a new heaven and new earth, the heavenly Jerusalem, where sin, death, war, and conflict will be gone forever, replaced by holiness, life, justice, and goodness. We hear that this city has 12 gates, to symbolize that this new kingdom is a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. Also, this city is built on the foundation of the apostles, a fulfillment of the New Testament. It has no temple, for God dwells in its midst. This certainly seems like an image for the Church: fulfilling the promises of old, built upon the faith of the apostles, with Christ Jesus dwelling in our midst here in the Holy Eucharist. It is this Church which will find its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. But here and now the Church, all of us, should be an instrument of peace, spreading the peace of Christ to the four corners of the world until that day when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.