Today we read in the gospel account that the disciples were hiding behind closed doors after Christ's resurrection. This hiding was due to the external threat of the Jews. We of course in our current situation, can relate to them. We too are hiding behind closed doors due to the external threat of the coronavirus.
We, like the disciples, are hiding despite us experiencing Pascha and are haunted by varying degree of fear, anxiety, and stress. Returning to the Gospel account, Christ appears behind these closed doors and blesses the disciples saying 'peace be with you' while they are in this state of fear and, for Thomas, doubt.
Similarly, Christ has been appearing to us behind closed doors, through our streaming services and our celebration of Pascha in our homes. Obviously, Christ physically being present in His resurrected body to the disciples is not the same as watching the liturgy on a screen. Yet, Christ offers us the same peace amidst all the fear, anxiety, worry, sickness, and stress as He did to His disciples. As we see in the Gospels, many encounters with Christ after His resurrection show Him blessing others with His peace. It seems that Christ’s peace is uniquely connected to His resurrection.
As I’ve been reflecting upon peace in light of the Resurrection this week, I discovered that I frequently ignore the centrality of peace within our faith. As I started to dig into this however, peace is central to our faith, and I found example after example of this being true. The first example we see is when Christ appears to His disciples; He doesn't bless them by saying 'Love be with you' or ‘Power be with you', but He says, 'Peace be with you'. We see in Galatians 5:22-23, peace is one of the primary fruits of the spirit. Amazingly, if you look through the Divine Liturgy, peace is the most commonly mentioned fruit of the spirit, being used 35 times, whereas love 30 times, kindness 19 times, and joy only 5. Countless other examples from both the new and old testaments, our liturgical life, theological writings, and the lives of the Saint's point to the fact that peace is a cornerstone virtue of our Christian life. This then begs the question, what is this peace? What is this peace that Christ gives to His apostles and to us after His resurrection? St. Maximos the Confessor explains it so simply and beautifully "Peace is truly the complete and undisturbed possession of what is desired." Isn't this true? "Peace is truly the complete and undisturbed possession of what we desired." Christ's peace has the ability to finally satisfy all of our deepest desires in a complete and unshakable way. This is underscored when we look to both the Greek and Hebrew words for peace. εἰρήνη in Greek, has the root word εἴρω which means to join; and thus when we acquire Christ’s peace, we are joined to Him. Shalom in Hebrew expresses the idea of wholeness, completeness, and tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by outward circumstances or pressures. This is why the beatitudes say 'blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God' (Matthew 5:9). When we acquire true peace we are jointed to Christ, are fulfilled by His presence and are complete; we truly become children of God; we have reached the end state that we all desire. This is why Christ offers His peace to the disciples when He first comes to them and to Thomas; when Christ offers His peace, He is offering Himself to us. The peace of Christ is communion with Him. When we focus our desire towards Him everything else fades away and we are set as ease. When we accept His sovereignty over all things, both in heaven and earth, everything falls in its proper place and our worrying stops. When we realize our weaknesses and sinfulness simultaneously with His forgiveness and healing we quell our anxieties and simply sit in His presence. And when we experience His love and we respond in love we experience heavenly peace. All of this is summarized by St. Paul in Philippians 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7). This is a peace that goes beyond emotional feelings and intellectual certitudes since it surpasses all that this world can offer. It is only Christ’s peace that can guard our hearts and minds against every affliction so that we can finally have lasting contentment, tranquility, and stresslessness. This peace is the actualization of God’s grace within our lives which is why St. Seraphim of Servo says, 'Acquire peace, and thousands around you will be saved.' It is this peace that turns people into saints, and how the good news of resurrection shines in a dark world.
My dear brothers and sisters, it is in this time of pandemic that the peace we receive from our Lord is continually being attacked and we must stay focused on the reality of the resurrection to maintain it. Like Thomas, we can begin to doubt our Lord and His resurrection. We lose the peace He offers to us because we stop desiring our Savior and start desiring to only be freed from the negative symptoms we are experiencing right now. We bind our sight to only earthly things rather than look heavenly and so we cannot see the transcend peace our Savior extends to us. We are stuck only seeking temporary peace from our immediate suffering rather than everlasting peace. I too have been struggling to hold on to Christ’s peace during this time as we are continually assaulted through the news, disruptive social distancing, and our unrelenting thoughts. However, we need to continue to spend time reflecting on the amazing reality that the resurrection opens up to each and everyone one of us. We need to dwell on the reality that Christ, through His resurrection, has overcome all that we face and will face in our lives. Such reflection will help us put all things in their proper perspective and have a vantage point of eternity. We start to understand that the temporary sufferings are but a burst of steam on a cold day that will dissipate quickly in light of eternity. This is why the saints show us that while they were persecuted, martyred, starved, and experiencing all forms of tragedies they never lost their peace. They fixated their entire soul on the reality of who Christ is and what He has done through His resurrection and thus gain an indestructible peace. It is when we internalize Christ’s peace that we internalize the reality of His Resurrection and through it can overcome the hardships of life. This is the reason why we need to spend time in prayer to connect with our resurrected Lord. We internalize His grace through prayer, so we don’t fall into continual fear and worry. This is why we resist distractions that misguide our desires away from communion with the living God. This is why we persevere in our Christian faith and take it seriously, so that we will have the Prince of Peace dwelling in our soul. We do these things so that we are joined to Christ to allow His peace to made manifest within us so we can “be of good cheer. Since He has overcome the world.” (paraphrase John 16:33). So let us today do what the liturgy tells us, to ‘lay aside every earthly care, so that we may receive the King of all’ who grants us eternal peace.
Deacon Steve Tussing