Sunday 19 April 2020
It would be really fascinating, I think, to be able to get inside the heads of the various disciples who were gathered in that room on the first Easter Day. The evangelist gives us some clue as to their mental state by suggesting that they were fearful.
But I would be interested in having a greater insight into their emotions at the time. They had, in their various ways, invested in the Jesus project. They had left their former occupations, they had possibly fallen out with some family members along the way, they had experienced the antagonism that was directed towards Jesus by their co-religionists.
And a couple of days earlier it had all come tumbling down around them as they saw their teacher, their prophet, ingloriously executed by the Romans in a most shameful death on a cross. I say they saw it, but the evidence is probably not there to make that claim. In fact, it appears from the gospel accounts that the vast majority of them had fled and deserted Jesus at his arrest. Their leader, Simon Peter, had even specifically denied having anything to do with Jesus.
Indeed, their hearts and their heads must have been full of many emotions and thoughts.
And then, the risen Jesus was in their presence. He whom they had abandoned at his moment of greatest need. Can you imagine the sense of guilt racing through them at the very sight of Jesus?
And what was his first word to them? “Peace be with you.” And as the realisation of what was happening burst upon them as he showed them his wounds, their buckets of negative emotions turned to joy. And Jesus repeated his greeting of “Peace be with you”. And interestingly, when he appeared to them a week later, with Thomas present on this occasion, his opening greeting was again: “Peace be with you”.
Of course, what they really needed was to make their peace with him. They had failed him. And yet, Jesus offers them peace. They don’t have to ask for it. His opening words without any intercession from the disciples are: “Peace be with you”.
What is the nature of the peace that Jesus offers the disciples, and us in fact?
The English word “peace” can have many connotations. What exactly is Jesus offering us?
From the end of the fourth century up until the Reformation in the 16th century, there was only one version of the Bible in use in the Christian Church in the West. It was called the Vulgate and it was a Latin translation made by St Jerome.
The words of Jesus are rendered in the Vulgate as “Pax vobis” – “pax” being the Latin word for peace. But the Latin word “pax” had a lot of baggage. It would have been associated with the first and second century phrase, “Pax Romana”. The “Pax Romana” was the absence of hostilities for military expansion by the great Roman Empire. But the Pax Romana was maintained within the Empire by the brutality of the Roman response to anyone who would step out of line.
We should recall what the Romans did to the Jews and Jerusalem in the Jewish war from 66AD to 70AD. That occurred during the Pax Romana. The peace was maintained only if the Romans were appeased by the conduct of their conquered territories.
The peace Jesus was offering his disciples was a lot more than this minimal concept.
If we were to go back to the original Greek language of the Bible, we would find that the word used for peace in this part of the gospel was “Eirene”. The sense of the Greek word is quietness or rest. Once again, I think that this underplays the meaning of Jesus greeting.
It is most likely that the actual word Jesus used were in Aramaic. In which case, he would have said: “Shlomo ‘aleykhun”. Now listen to the word for “peace” in that greeting – shlomo.
What does that sound like to you? Are you familiar with the Hebrew word, “shalom”? Of course, Hebrew and Aramaic are very closely related. Aramaic is the oldest continuously spoken and written language in the Middle East. Hebrew is a derived language from Aramaic.
The point of all of that is to say that the sort of peace that Jesus was offering his disciples on his rising from the dead was not just an absence of hostility as per the Latin, or quietness or rest as per the Greek, but Shlomo according to the Aramaiac. Shlomo. Shalom in the Hebrew. The meaning in those languages is completeness, wholeness. Everything being as it should be, not just between humans, but within the whole creation. Shalom expresses that everything should be as it was when God created the world and everything was very good, everything was as it should be.
John’s gospel begins with the great prologue to remind us of God’s initial creation and to inform us that Jesus brings about the new creation. In his greeting to his disciples on the evening of the first Easter, Jesus conveys that peace, that shalom, of the new creation upon his disciples who have so recently disappointed him. In other words, Jesus shalom is for all, not just for the perfect. Jesus’ shalom is for us and it is our calling to live out that deep-seated peace that comes from knowing that the risen Jesus is the new creation. Everything can again be as it should be.
Pax vobis. Eirene umin. Shlomo aleykhun. Peace be with you.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen