Members and friends of Penn Central Conference,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV)
The passage above includes the first mention of the word “peace” in the gospel of John. The Greek term is eriene and is the root for the English word irenic, meaning “aiming or aimed at peace.” Irenic is a word often used to describe the Heidelberg Catechism and was part of how the German Reformed understood their reality as believers. It is also the source of the name Ireneus, an early Bishop of the church who was called to be a peacemaker between the Eastern and Western churches.
This is the first of only five instances of eriene in John. Jesus adds to it, “I do not give as the world gives” which should cause us to pause. The peace he is bestowing on the disciples is not a false promise of security or the end of conflict. He is about to be killed in Jerusalem and knows it.
He already knows of the betrayals to come. He is not preparing them for a world in which they will be led by the Spirit on easy paths of glory. Instead, he begins – with this passage – to prepare them for a different world. One in which there will be persecutions and sufferings for the disciples. The Spirit will be with them and will empower them but will not provide them safety or escape from the harsh realities of the world.
Jesus’ internal peace grew from the certain knowledge of God’s presence, the commitment to following God’s will, and his embrace of his relationship with God through prayer. His union with God was the source of a peace that enabled him to face his persecutors and take on the mantle of death. For the disciples the gift of his peace would sustain them in the face of the brutality of the world. As it was for them, so will it be for us. Not protection, but presence.
I look at the world around me and I ache for peace in Ukraine. I pray for the end of horrific hate crimes. I await the end of the covid virus, and so much more. At the same time, I am strangely comforted by Jesus’ words. A disciple is to be one set in the context of tragedy and terror and still be at peace.
I am not to be overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. The world was brutal in Jesus’ time, and it is brutal now. Yet our own certain knowledge of God’s presence, following God’s will, and embracing prayer will lead us toward the union with God that Jesus exemplified. That union can bring us to a place of peace in the midst of the world’s suffering. Moments of peace in which our hearts will not be afraid. Times when, without fear, we live as Jesus called us to live. Our role is to call on the Spirit to enliven Jesus’ peace within us so that we may – as he did – speak and bring words of peace to a frightened, broken, and aching world.
Rev. Dr. Carrie Call
Penn Central Conference