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"The Peace of the Lord be with you always."

John 14:23-29

Pastor James F. Wright

Sixth Sunday of Easter
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, May 20, 2001 

(John 14:23-29 NIV) Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. {24} He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. {25} "All this I have spoken while still with you. {26} But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. {27} Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. {28} "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. {29} I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Grace, Mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"The Peace of the Lord be with you always."

This saying has been spoken in congregations such as this one for thousands of years. The giving of the peace has become a ritual. Before the Lordís Supper the pastor blesses the faithful with the peace of the Lord. In some locals people shake hands at that time of the service and say, "Peace be with you."

This is intended to be more than a friendly gesture. It has its roots in the words of Jesus on the night before his death, and on the day of his resurrection. He wanted us all to know that was going into death and coming out again to bring us peace, and all who share a common belief in Jesus share the common peace that he gives.

The ritual of the giving of peace of the Lord goes back to the first Easter. Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room and twice said, "Peace be with you." He then sent them to bring peace to the world by forgiving sins in his name. To those who have no need for forgiveness there is no peace. But to those who know their sin this greeting is a refreshing shower of grace.

It is interesting to know that in the early days of the Christian Church the peace was given not as a handshake, but as a kiss. This kiss of peace is spoken of at the end of several of the letters of the New Testament. In the early Church all who received and gave the kiss of peace then received the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. In their gatherings, after those who were learning the faith were dismissed, the kiss began at the altar and was passed around the church. Only those who received and gave the kiss were welcomed to the Lordís table.

In a document called the Didascalia from the early third century A.D. we read of a scene where the kiss of peace comes to a halt as two people refuse to kiss each other. There was a disagreement. We donít know what it was, but it was probably much like the kind of disagreements we have between people in congregations today such as ours. The service then stopped and the presiding minister left the altar and went to where the kiss was blocked. Only after he had worked reconciliation did the peace continue on its way around, and only then does the liturgy proceed.

This says much about how early Christians lived in a congregation. To them the peace of God was a real thing, expected to be received by everyone, and shared by everyone. There was to be no withholding of forgiveness between the gathered flock. If two people would not share the peace, no one could until those two were brought together.

Does this bear any resemblance to our gathering today? It is well known that we have not always been at peace with one another. Within our congregation there have been persons who do not even speak with one another, let alone share the peace. How many of our families have been at odds with one another. And yet week after week we come to the Lordís table together. Donít we know what we are doing? If we want the Lordís forgiveness but will not forgive our brother or sister in Christ, what shall we receive from the Lord God but rejection? First we must be at peace with our brother, seek his forgiveness and forgive him, and then we may come to the Lord to receive his pardon.

This reflects the teaching of the Lordís Prayer. We ask that God would forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus taught that we are to forgive our brother or sister not only seven times, but seven times seven times. We are always to forgive those who ask for our forgiveness. To withhold forgiveness is to decline the Lordís forgiveness for ourselves.

Easter season for the Christian Church is filled with the peace of the Lord. His sacrificial death for our sins brings peace where there once was guilt. The news of his resurrection as it is spread among his friends and followers is remembered in the preaching of the Words of Life that ring in our ears, "He is risen!" The sight of his body, wounded but now healed and filled with glory, points to the future clothing that God will drape upon every soul in his faithful flock. It is a body that will be raised impervious to illness, disease, and age. Yes, the time of Easter is one of great joy and peace.

That peace must be shared among us and between us. Wherever there is division and bad feelings the peace of the Lord must replace it. We cannot celebrate the peace of Easter and hold a grudge against a fellow Christian. If so, we are only imagining the peace of the Lord. We can shake a hand, we can mumble the words of peace, we can even kiss them on the cheek, but if there is not full forgiveness in the heart, we do not have the peace that the Lord is giving.

And so we come to the text for today. It was the night before Jesus died. With his disciples Jesus washed their feet to show the kind of service he was going to be giving to them. He gave to them the Lordís Supper and told them to continue to celebrate it until the end of time for the forgiveness of sins. In this context comes the words we hear today. Jesus said that loving him means keeping his word. If we do not receive his word and live by it, we do not really love him.

He then gave them his peace. He said he was going away and he would return. He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." He wanted us to know that his death would bring us peace. It was his purpose for coming to earth. He was the perfect human being. No opposition to Godís will was to be found in him.

As the spotless Lamb of God, he was the perfect sacrifice. He followed the Fatherís instructions in every detail. While we change and modify the Word of God to make it fit our lifestyle, or ignore it altogether and thereby bring the wrath of God to bear on ourselves, Jesus embraced everything the Father said. He was the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Everyone who knows how deep their sin really goes is ready to receive the peace of Jesus. They can live without it no longer. They hunger and thirst for it like starved animals. They want the peace that the resurrection of Jesus brings. They also want to give it to others. It brings freedom and life.

Those who are at peace with the ways of the world do not need the peace of Jesus. He does not give us the kind of peace that the world gives. The world only gives a false peace. It is false because it is temporary. It wears off. It is like the lotions we rub on our skin to make them soft. After a day, we have to reapply them. Being at peace with the world can never fully satisfy us. It only makes us even more hungry.

The peace of the Lord is forever. Knowing that you have been completely forgiven by God and that he will never forsake you is powerful knowledge.

It gives strength to everything you do. It doesnít matter if you are working, studying, raising a family, or lying in bed in a nursing home with no hope of recovery. Knowing that Jesus died and rose to give you eternal life is the most peaceful of all experiences. It gives you the strength to cope with any hardship. It calms the restless soul. It lifts the lowest spirit. It is the only true peace we can ever know in this earthly life.

When you stand in the pew and see the pastor hold out his hands and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you," you know this is more than just a wish. Jesus died and rose to give you this peace. Even better, when the pastor holds up the bread and the cup, now the body and blood of Jesus as his word declares, and says, "The peace of the Lord be with you," you know that he is holding out to you the only true and lasting peace you will ever know in this world. For all other things will fail you or be taken away from you. But the Lord Jesus Christ will never leave you. Jesus gave his body and blood on the cross to save you from hell and deliver you into your Heavenly Fatherís loving arms. What greater peace is there?

Peace like this gives us the ability to share the peace with one another. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We love because we have been loved. We embrace because we have been embraced by God in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us share the peace of the Lord up until the day we are taken into that peace in the place we call heaven.

The Peace of God, that surpasses all understanding, guard and keep your hearts to everlasting life. Amen.

Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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