During this Easter Season (until next Wednesday) it’s helpful to consider the scene when Jesus appeared to his disciples on the first Easter evening. John 20:19 tells us that as they met behind closed doors, for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus suddenly stood physically amongst them.
Peace. The last time they had seen him, he was bleeding and wracked with pain, dying on a cross. Yet here he was, not weak and limp, but tall and erect, in command, speaking the very words he had uttered at the Passover meal, “Peace be with you.” And to prove he was not a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side.
Bewildered and confused they doubtless were, but they knew, impossible and surreal though it was, that Jesus was truly alive. “Peace be with you!” he said again. At the Passover meal he had promised, “My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me.”
How important it is for us to know the peace of God, for we live in such an uncertain world – as the current coronavirus pandemic has revealed. For the peace of God brings us the assurance of his forgiveness and presence, new life and purpose, hope and joy.
It is significant that Paul the Apostle takes up the theme in his Letter to the Philippians (4:7) where he writes: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this Letter. He knew from personal experience what it is like to be in situations that cause anxiety and fear. Yet he has some bold and encouraging words as he reflects on the nature of God and brings us God’s promises.
His word guard literally means ‘a garrison’. Being a Roman citizen, he seems to have in mind the Praetorian Guard. It’s a powerful image. In every situation God’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ provides security for our hearts and minds, and so gives God’s people peace.
Furthermore, hearts speaks of our mind and will, our conscience and emotions. What goes on within us, finds its outward expression in our life. And minds refers to our conscious thoughts and ideas that spring from these inner longings.
When Paul speaks about ‘the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, he is speaking of our need for inner transformation and for keeping our lives centered on Christ. It is easy to be so caught up with the attractions and anxieties of the world that we turn away from Christ.
We need the conscious presence of God in our lives. In Philippians 4:9 Paul says again: the peace of God will be with you.
In sum, in these verses (7 & 9) Paul identifies some very encouraging promises: The peace of God which passes all understanding; the peace of God will keep you; and the God of peace will be with you.
When we are faced with unexpected, catastrophic events such as the deadly coronavirus which is taking thousands of lives and devastating economies, it’s easy to fret and fear.
Yet, Paul is telling us that even in the midst of this God’s people have access to an experience that is beyond human understanding – the touch of the supernatural, something that can only be explained as the touch of God’s hand. I’m not talking about some mystical power, but rather the work of God’s Word through his Spirit, enabling us to rise above the challenges of life in such a way that it can be explained only by the power of God at work within us.
And remember, God promises to garrison our minds. His sentries don’t sleep. The praetorian guards of the King of Kings protect us, keeping the potentially disturbing voices of fear and anxiety quiet, so that we can sleep.
And, above all, we have the promise of God’s peace. If we detach this promise from the New Testament, peace is nothing more than a spiritual marshmallow – full of sweetness and softness but without much substance.
The peace of God is rich in meaning, full of depth and strength. To understand the depths of the riches of the peace that God holds out to us we need to grow in our understanding of him.
NEW – PODCAST. To help us in this, from next Wednesday, May 20, the Word on Wednesday will also be available as a podcast. The weekly biblical Reflection will be framed by prayers drawn from Anglican liturgical forms as well as music.
As you experience the peace of God in your own life, you may like to pray for this development of the Word on Wednesday ministry. And, it would be great if you spread the word.