Acts 15, 1-2 22-29 + Psalm 67 + Revelation 21, 10-14, 22-23 + John 14, 23-29
May 1, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL
Within the heart of every person, and in the memory of every culture there is a profound nostalgia for paradise. The creation and origin myths of every people describe our beginnings as a time when God and humanity dwelled together as one. Our own primordial tale in Genesis speaks to us of the peace of Eden, and it describes the relationship that existed between the creator and the creature. In those days God spoke to his creature face to face and there was no fear. The Bible tells us that God walked the garden in the evening to talk with his beloved creatures. From this oneness man experienced peace within himself and with woman. From that moment in the primal paradise, the longings of the human heart were properly ordered, and there was peace. The significance of that order remains for us: the basis of human peace is peace within one’s self with God.
In the mythology of nearly every people there is also an account of how the human creature fell from this state of peace. It does not matter whether this took place at one moment in history, because for us all it takes place at every moment. There is something flawed in our hearts. There is a tragic misdirection of freedom which we inherit, reaffirm, and pass on. The Genesis story speaks to this condition. First is the break with God. At the sound of his coming there is fear, hiding, evasion, and shame. But the even more saddening effects of this are seen most clearly in the way man and woman turn on each other with anger or blame. In our story, he blames the woman, and she blames the serpent. Here at the beginning it is the same as the end, division between human beings. The story goes on with anguish and progressive alienation. There is murder with Cane and Able. There is treachery with Noah’s son, then there is the story of the tower. It is always about man seizing by force what has been offered as a gift.
Finally, Jesus comes. The announcement of his birth is a proclamation of Peace. The message of the angel to Mary, and then to Shepherds is “Peace be with you”, and “Peace on Earth good will toward men.” In his life among us, Jesus reached across every barrier by the simple gesture of acceptance and by speaking the truth. He showed us what divine peacemaking was all about. It was his unity with the Father that enabled him to bring that unity to human persons for one purpose: “That they may all be one.”
The great mystery of peace is that it was accomplished by an act of violence. In this foolishness was the wisdom of God’s way revealed; in this weakness was his power to save. In this violence by which his body was torn apart, the man of peace handed over his spirit. Before his death he told his followers, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We are to continue the peacemaking of Jesus by using the same attitudes of forgiveness and mercy, of acceptance and reconciliation that he showed toward us. In order to do this, we must be at peace with ourselves. The peace Jesus leaves with us has little to do with feeling good inside, much less with assurances of a calm and undisturbed life or a successful career. The peace given by a crucified Messiah is not manifest in trivialities. The peace of Jesus has to do with fidelity toward the Father, with awareness that we are loved and accepted by God. Once grounded in this, we are able to reach out to others in peace. Because we do not find our center in pleasure, possessions, or power, we have no conflict with others over the world and over the things of this world. Not needing to possess or use others as assurance of our own worth, we are able to freely see them for what they are, God’s children and place ourselves at their service.
Without this basis in God, all the world’s attempts at peace-making are futile. They all eventually break down because of the conflicting idolatries of humans. Without peace with God, there can be no peace among us. Pay attention to what Jesus is saying here. Peace is a gift. It is not something we make, enforce or establish. It is a gift that we can only accept by accepting God into our hearts and making that relationship the first and the best. The only treaty that brings lasting peace is a covenant with God. The entire history of this world is littered with peace treaties broken again and again. Not until we are at peace with God can we find peace with others, and when we do, we will have found again the garden in which a lion can lie down with a lamb, in which I child can play by the nest of a viper, and men and women everywhere will rejoice in being children of God.