May 4, 2013

6th Easter Sunday: Shalom of Jesus

"Peace I leave with you . . ."

Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29
Rev. 21: 10-14, 22-23
Jn 14: 23-29

It has been said that love is not a feeling – it is a verb.  And being a “verb,” if we remember our grammar 101, it is an action word.  A verb implies an action.  At times someone may sadly say, “There is no love in our marriage anymore.” We could experience the same in family, parish, or our prayer. So we may ponder what we need to do in order to find that love again.  But is it only about feeling in love, bonded, connected, appreciated, affirmed? 

In our Gospel this Sunday we hear Jesus speak of an action: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him . . .” (Jn 14: 23).  That’s quite a promise from our Lord isn’t it?  If we keep his word, which essentially may be defined as loyalty to him, and keep his commandments, then we become spiritually bonded to the work of the Trinity itself.  To love Jesus, means at the same time to love the Father and the Holy Spirit.  From where could we possibly draw anything better?

In the context of his farewell to the Apostles, who he knew would be feeling vulnerable and lost without his presence among them, he says further: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled . . .” (Jn 14: 27).  For the Apostles, there is much to fear or at least that must have been their perception and they felt they would need to rely on their own ingenuity.  But Jesus offers them an even greater assurance: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I told you . . .” (Jn 14: 26).  But did they grasp his words fully?  Do we? What does it mean to have the guarantee of Jesus’ Peace – his “Shalom” in our lives?

While he wished them the best, he also gave them a promise of his constant abiding presence in this gift of shalom.  It is a Hebrew word not unfamiliar to Jews today and certainly not to those of Jesus’ time.  We commonly translate the word as “peace.” So when Jesus says to his Apostles, “Peace be with you” as he appears to them after the resurrection and when we hear it in the context of this Sunday’s Gospel from John, “my peace I give to you,” we should wonder if it’s more than just the wish for a calm spirit or for good relations between warring nations.

“Shalom” has peace as just one small part of its meaning. It is used both to greet people and a way to say goodbye.  It is the wish not only for peace but for a complete peace; for a feeling of contentment, completeness, well-being and harmony. In wishing his Apostles peace or “shalom” he was offering them the full blessing of completeness; that they would want for nothing if they remain loyal to him: “Whoever loves me will keep my word” (in doing so, you will find completeness) “my Father will love him, and we will come to him” (and in so doing, you will want for nothing).  The added promise of the Holy Spirit completes the fullness of “shalom.” Think of this the next time you offer the “sign of peace” at Mass. We wish a “shalom” to those around us. But this completeness is not always easily maintained.  

For the early Church all was not hearts and flowers. It is clear that controversy and the threat of schism were very real in the beginning years of Christianity.  Our first reading from Acts continues the Easter stories of the growth of Christianity. This Sunday we hear of the first challenge to unity – the acceptance among the Gentile community of the new way.

The burning question on the minds of the Apostles as they heard of the success of Paul and the resulting sign of the Holy Spirit among the non-Jewish believers was of membership. God’s desire, as they saw in Jesus, was expansive in nature; to reach out beyond the boundaries of the Jewish nation to all humankind. But this would mean a break with fellow Jews, something the Apostles themselves were in a quandary about. The solution was a brilliant inspiration of the Holy Spirit and a compassionate pastoral decision. The willingness of the Church to seek a compromise which maintained the shalom which Jesus so desired for his believers.

In the end, Peter, Paul and the others could not deny what they saw among the Gentiles and so they decided to extend the comprehensive peace (shalom) which Jesus offered to them in not requiring the Gentile believers to follow the law of Moses (circumcision for males) but to adhere only to certain restrictions.  (Acts 15: 28-29). A new age had begun and a new direction for the Church – we are they.

In just two weeks the Church celebrates the great Solemnity of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  The Easter season will conclude but the push of the Spirit continues until the end of time. Where and how can I contribute that same spirit of “shalom” among those I worship with, work with, and live with? Where do I see something new beginning and continuing today and what challenges do I see facing the Church (they are many and increasing).

Our Eucharist calls us to seek peace and truth.  The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to experience the shalom of Jesus. May we never tire of that privilege.
Grant, almighty God,
that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy,
which we keep in honor of the risen Lord,
and that what we relive in remembrance
we may always hold to I what we do.

(Roman Missal)