United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


🕊️   “Let There Be Peace” 🕊️  

April 7, 2024

Rev. Rebecca Migliore


        “Peace” is a word pastors want to hear right after Easter.  There has been so much activity, so much output, so much emotion.  In times like these for us all, we just want a little “peace.”  And we envision, no pressure.  We envision, warm days and blissful nights.  We envision disconnecting from the world, or being very much a part of it, depending on our inner nature.  Ahhhh, for once, “peace.”

I don’t think this is the kind of peace Jesus wanted to give to his disciples at the gospel of John’s depiction of the last supper when he said those famous words, “Peace 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, neither let them be afraid.”  I don’t think this is the kind of peace Jesus greets his disciples with, as he pops up in their lives, as they were hiding behind locked doors, fearful that whoever wished them ill, Jewish or Roman, would find them and sweep them up into the insanity and frenzy of Jesus’ final days.

It is interesting that Jesus greets them with “Peace be with you” instead of the usual greeting of heavenly beings when they scare the wits out of us mortals—“Do not be afraid.”  Maybe Jesus used the Peace greeting because he wanted them to know exactly who he was.  I mean, they had all either witnessed his death, or had heard about it.  They were in mourning.  And then Mary Magdelene (earlier that day) had showed up with this ridiculous story of “seeing” Jesus alive, of talking to him, of feeling the elation of resurrection.  They had all been trying to figure out what it meant.  And, then, all at once, Jesus “stood among them.”  Was it a mass hallucination?  Was this flesh and blood, or something else?  Was this, could this, be Jesus?

All that comes crashing down, when Jesus, the real Jesus, their Jesus, says “Peace be with you.”  It was part of their code.  It was already enshrined in their memories of that last night.  That phrase would be held tightly, and cherished, and made part of our everyday worship.  “The Peace of Christ be with you…and also with you.”  “Peace be with you” said it all.  But then he showed them, hands and side—the physical marks of the evil that this world has to offer.  It’s interesting that Jesus appears in John in a wounded body (dare we say a sacrificial lamb of God).  John isn’t waving a magic wand and making everything better.  John isn’t having Jesus photoshopped into a heavenly body, wiped free of the pain and suffering that this world can contain. Even so, “Peace.”

So, this greeting of peace certainly had something to do with trying to identify Jesus to the disciples.  Peace had something to do with calming their fears and comforting them in their sorrow.  But “peace” in Hebrew, in Jewish thought, is so much more than this absence of fear, or absence of upset, or absence of mourning.  “Peace” is more about the presence of something.  “Peace” is about the hope of something.  And this concept can’t be contained in our English word “peace.”  It isn’t large enough.  We need add another layer in our “peace.”  And that is why we turn to the Hebrew word for it—Shalom. 

Shalom can be a greeting or a blessing.  But Shalom encompasses the wish for what the world can be.  Shalom looks forward to what God has promised, a world in harmony, a place where love is the constant, a time and space where there is no more crying or pain or sorrow, where lion and lamb can be friends, where all can worship on the holy mountain together.  To us, it seems like dreaming the impossible dream.  But for Jesus it was the reality that he based his life upon.  It was the story that he tried to embed in his disciples’ minds and hearts.  It was the bedrock on which he stood.  It was the first and most important commandment.  Often Jesus talked about it as “being near to the kingdom of God.”

And on that first day of the week, what we now call Easter Sunday, Shalom meant that death had not won.  Shalom meant that even if just for a moment, the empty tomb wasn’t empty, because it trumpeted God’s victory in our world.  A victory that was going to have far reaching implications for those who were there on that day—and for all those who came after, including us.

But before I get to that, there is one other part of “Peace” that I want to mention.  (And I give thanks to Michael Joseph Brown, President of Payne Theological Seminary, in Dayton Ohio for bringing this to mind—workingpreacher.com).  We can never forget that Jesus and all those living in what was called Judaea were under Roman rule (as was much of the known world at that time).  And Rome had decreed a “peace” as well—the Pax Romana.  This so-called “peace” was enforced by violence.  It was the absence of conflict through military conquest, surveillance, and oppression.  It was a fake peace.  It was a peace meant for some but not all.  In some ways, it was the Pax Romana that insisted that any trouble-maker, as Jesus was deemed, needed to be “dealt with” for the sake of the peace.  It was a vision of peace that was the opposite of what Jesus meant.  And so, I can imagine that Jesus had intentionally chosen “peace” as his verbal gift to his disciples.  He was trying to reclaim the word—or remind his followers, and us, of God’s intention for true “peace,” Shalom in the here and now, and in the “to be” future.

Did you realize that every time you wish someone the Peace of Christ, you were being so revolutionary?  For you are standing on the side of Jesus, and not the side of the Pax Romana (or whatever entity is trying to convince people that only THEY can provide “peace,” whatever ever it takes).  For there is a choice to be made.  Do you believe in the vision of God for the world?  Will you work to make it visible?  Would you be willing to stake your life on it?  Or do you want to choose, or let stand, the pax—what the powerful in our world define as peace, that this is the best it can be.  Riches and freedom for some, not for all.


The song we sing, “Let there be peace on earth” captures this idea. “Let there be peace” isn’t just a prayer.  Isn’t just something for God to take care of.  For we sing, “and let it begin with me.”  Peace isn’t just something that Jesus gives us, as a sedative for all the ills of this life.  Peace/Shalom isn’t to be cradled close to your chest, warming only your heart.  Peace is intended to be offered to others, with outstretched hands.  If you don’t believe me, listen to Jesus.  “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”

What could Jesus possible mean, to those who were holed up, heads down, trying to be invisible?  That they had to accept Jesus’ peace, breathe deep the energy of the Spirit, and get their courage up to leave that place, and begin the work of sharing the peace of Christ.  But let’s be real.  As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The disciples didn’t get their act together immediately.  They were still meeting behind closed doors.  They were still contemplating what they had all experienced.  They were still talking about it to those who hadn’t been present (like Thomas—like us). 

And a week later, it’s like ground hog day.  There they are, “again in the house” although Thomas is with them.  The doors are still shut, but that isn’t going to keep Jesus out.  He came, and stood among them and said, (I bet you can guess) “Peace be with you.”  And now Thomas gets to not only see but feel the marks on Jesus’ hands and in his side.

This year, I’m not focusing on Thomas, who we call doubting but really is just like most of us.  This year, I’m not focusing on our personal story about faith—that we should be those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.  This year, I hear Jesus’ clarion call—about how we live our lives, about what we dream for our world, about what we are to do as we follow the One who constantly says, “Come and See.”  And it all starts with “Peace.”


It starts with us allowing the Peace of Christ to enter into our hearts and minds.  And from that solid foundation of peace, it makes us look around, at our community, our little band of followers, those who we gather with, week after week.  And gaining strength from one plus one plus one, we are asked to carry that extraordinary gift of peace, that vision of peace, that insistence of peace into our world.  It doesn’t mean that we have to greet everyone with those words “May the peace of Christ be with you.”  But maybe we can try to hear them as we interact with others, especially with those who push our buttons, or who make us fearful, or who we don’t understand.

When Jesus talked about leaving his peace with his disciples, I’m sure they didn’t get it.  I mean peace is just a term, right?  But the greeting, the gift, became the container for the truth of resurrection.  The truth that Jesus had pointed to all along.  The truth that this is God’s world.  We are God’s children.  And nothing, and no one, can change that.

So, we are to believe that we are near to the kingdom of God.  We are sent out into a world that probably will laugh at our simple concepts—faith, hope, love, peace.  But we know different.  We are the people of the way.  We are the people of the empty tomb.  We are the people who are trying to live into the gift of “Peace be with you” and do our part--Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.