The night before Jesus died, Jesus said to his disciples, who would soon be filled with grief, uncertainty and fear: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
I wonder what the disciples felt when they heard those words:
Confusion? Doubt? Longing?
The thing about peace is that it often feels so elusive.
Sure, we would love to all feel at peace, but how do we do that in a world like this one?
How do we experience peace in a world with violence, pain, sadness and loneliness?
How do we do experience peace when the world is constantly telling us that who we are and what we have is never enough?
Life can be exhausting.
Where do we find peace?
This is a question with which not only the disciples wrestled but also we today.
Glennon Melton, mother and author of Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, struggles with this question first hand.
She moved six times in eight years to very different places because she thought if she changed her geography, maybe she could discover peace and joy … as if they had their very own zip code … but she didn’t find what she was looking for …
No matter where she went, life was still hard, friendship, parenting, marriage, it was all still a struggle.
“Where does one go to find peace?” She wonders.
Glennon wasn’t sure … after all there are only so many places that one can look … at last she decides that maybe she’ll try yoga.
She goes to the studio, grabs a mat, sets up in the back, makes a border with her water bottle so no one will get to close. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and then, in Glennon’s words, Smelly Coughy Guy comes in. According to Glennon, all he does is smell and cough and she prays that he does not sit next to her, but he does. He moves her water bottle so that he can sit closer to her.
Glennon spends the first half hour of yoga frustrated and furious. How does one find peace when there is someone next to you coughing through all the silences?
Until, at last, the thought comes to Glennon that maybe she has the wrong idea about what peace is. With all the business, she had been praying for some peace and stillness in her life, but maybe, what God was saying: Well Glennon, here’s the thing, peace isn’t the absence of distraction or annoyance or pain. It’s finding Me, finding peace and calm, in the midst of those distractions and annoyances and pain.
Smelly Coughy Guy teaches Glennon to practice finding peace. Glennon discovers that peace doesn’t come on the other side of life but rather right here in the midst of it.
That is what Jesus is teaching the disciples in the Scripture today.
“Don’t go looking for peace after I leave,” Jesus says, alluding to his upcoming death, “You don’t need to travel to different geographies or zip codes to find peace. It will be with you in the form of the Holy Spirit.”
The disciples, of course, don’t quite get it:
“What do you mean you are going away, Jesus?” They ask, “Where are you going? Why can’t we follow you?”
Still, Jesus leaves them with the words, so that afterward, in the midst of their grief and suffering, they will remember that peace comes in form of companionship.
When Jesus is done teaching, the hour comes. Judas betrays Jesus and the disciple’s beloved teacher is torn away from them, condemned by the Roman Empire and given the death penalty through crucifixion.
As Mary and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the cross, they watch Jesus breaths his last breath. In the Gospel of John, Jesus delivers his final words, bows his head and literally “hands over his spirit” to Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross.
Some scholars see this as an unofficial gift of the Holy Spirit.
Right in the moment when their grief is most raw, Mary and the beloved disciple receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Even in the face of death, the Spirit of Christ remains, the Spirit of love remains – even after everything else has fallen away. The Spirit remains and bears witness to our experiences. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a profound one because it bears witness not only to our experiences of pain on Good Friday but also to our Holy Saturday experiences of waiting, of confusion, of being unsure what exactly will come next.
The Spirit is our Companion in the in-between spaces of our lives.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” Jesus had said, “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus had continued, “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus had said those words for precisely such a time as this: a time of oppressive empires and hateful rhetoric, chaotic lives and smelly coughy guys who won’t be quiet.
Peace is companionship. Peace is love.
Peace is know that we do not walk this journey alone.
We walk it with love, with God, with the Holy Spirit, no matter how uncertain our Holy Saturday is.
I was reminded of that truth this week when I heard the story of my colleague Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert. She began attending church when she was in high school. At the time, she was new to the idea of Christianity, a little cynical but she wanted to believe. She really did. Every week her youth group would sing songs like “Seek Ye First” that quoted Matthew 6:33, which says all we have to do is ask God and we will get what we pray for.
During this time, a close friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He was a 40 year old father with five kids at home. Tiffany had been particularly close to him growing up. She was shocked by the news but convenience that, if she prayed hard enough it would make everything better. She prayed every day but the illness took over his body and he died three short weeks later. Tiffany was devastated. She blamed herself – had she not prayed hard enough? Had she not believed hard enough? What was she to do?
She didn’t go to church for a long time and when she did, she found the anger, sadness and guilt that she had kept at bay flooding over her. She knelt down at the Communion alter and pleaded with God for forgiveness and acceptance. She prayed long and hard and begged for a sign that God was still present and that she was still loved.
Then a friend went up to the rail and asked if her what was wrong and if she could help. Tiffany brushed her aside because she was waiting for God. A second friend came and told her how worried they were about her, how sorry they felt about her deep sadness, how they wished to make it better. Again, Tiffany brushed it away because she was waiting for God, searching for peace. A third friend came, knelt beside Tiffany and embraced her. The whispered into her ear: “No matter what has happened, no matter what you think you have done, God loves you and so do I.” And in that moment, Tiffany knew that the Spirit of God was present. It wasn’t the cataclysmic heaven shaking sign she had wanted, but it the sign that she had needed.
Tiffany’s story, like the disciples’, reminds us that peace that doesn’t come in perfectly choreographed moments, but rather it comes in the midst of our Holy Saturday waiting and wondering. It comes by way of the Holy Spirit, who journeys with us as our Companion through all circumstances, through times of failure and success, grief and joy, illness and recovery.
Peace comes by way of the Holy Spirit, who patiently knocks down walls of isolation and fear and creates space for all that is holy and life-giving.
Peace comes by way of the Holy Spirit, who prepares us for the resurrection.