Peace of Christ

This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. The gospel is taken from John 20:19-31, the scene in the Upper Room on the evening of the Resurrection.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Meanwhile the disciples, still reeling from the events of the last three days, gather in the upper room. In Matthew 28:8, Mary Magdalene’s reaction to the encounter with Jesus was “fearful but overjoyed.” Perhaps this too is the experience of the disciples. All John tells us is that they were gathered together, hiding as it were, for fear of the Jews (v.19)

These are the disciples who scattered and fled at Jesus’ arrest, who stood at a distance from the cross, and in the case of Peter denied Jesus. These are disciples that upon seeing Jesus appear within the room would have likely experienced shame as they remembered all they had done and failed to do. Yet Jesus’ words are not words of recrimination or blame, his first resurrected words to the disciples as a group is “Peace be with you.

Peace be with you. What is this “peace” (eirēnē)? Often we assume “peace” describes either an absence of conflict or an inner personal tranquility, but one should note it most often describes the relationship between two people. The verbal form (eirēneuō) always refers to relationships between people in the NT (Mk 9:50; Ro 12:18; 2C 13:11; 1Th 5:13). Given John’s emphasis on the disciples’ love for one another (13:35), a communal meaning is highly likely. It is also possible that the meaning of eirēnē refers to messianic salvation, since “peace” is an essential quality of the messianic kingdom. Still, this does not suggest that the “peace” of the kingdom is primarily a personal, inner tranquility, but the way people and all creation and God will relate to each other in whole and complete ways.

This greeting of peace (v.19) is the word of reconciliation and wholeness for the disciples. They are forgiven for their failings and are brought back into relationship with the risen Jesus.  Their experience of Jesus is “seeing” but at the same time a moment of graced restoration; these cause the disciples to rejoice (v.20).

Between his greetings of peace, Jesus shows his hands and side to the disciples. Like the earlier encounter with Mary, this action stresses the continuity between the “earthly” and the resurrected Jesus – yet at the same time, the fact that Jesus can enter the locked room also shows there is something new here – death has been conquered and more.

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