An astute friend of mine claims that Jesus contradicts himself.
Jesus says Stay awake and also Do not be afraid.
How is it possible to do both at the same time?
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid, Jesus says to his disciples as his death looms; it sounded implausible that night, and maybe more so now.
Covid is bouncing back, spiking this week in our county and in our preschool.
Will people in Califonia be able to afford enough water to wash our hands?
Inflation and climate danger continue.
War and hateful, brutal cruelty rage on in Ukraine ... and Buffalo.
Trustworthy bedrocks like public satefy and election integrity and the Supreme Court feel
We the people are deeply polarized, socially isolated, toxically cynical, violently impatient, and raw with cumulative fatigue.
From multiple vantage points, the prospects for a better life for our children look grim.
So many of our prayers are long with worries and concerns and short on thank yous.
I could go on, and so could you.
But Jesus is insistent: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.
You have power that the world which is about to crucify me cannot comprehend or overcome.
You have what I have.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Any peace given by the world is conditional, partial, and fleeting.
The peace given by God in Christ is unconditional, complete, and enduring.
In the world, peace is an external possibility; it is based on circumstances and human choices.
In Jesus, peace is an internal reality, based on God's choice and accessible no matter what the situation around you.
In the world, peace is defensive—it closes gates and carries guns, just in case.
In Jesus, peace is vulnerable—it open hands, puts away the sword, and refuses to fear pain or loss.
In the world, peace is one of many possible tactics, a means to another end, usually retaining or expanding power.
In Jesus, peace is not just one option; it's a goal and guiding principle.
That's because Jesus is free from our addiction to self-interest.
The world weighs the prospect of peace with the question, What's in it for me?
Jesus offers peace to others, even from the cross, based on what's in it for you.
In the world, peace is boring: it makes for dull stories and bland history books.
In Jesus, peace opens up new possibilities ... because of a most crucial difference.
In the world, peace is an absence: an absence of conflict and violence and bloodshed and death.
In Jesus, peace is a presence.
Jesus leaves, but his peace remains.
The Advocate, the Holy Voice, will be sent to you, to lead, teach, support, defend you.
The whole book of Acts, from Pentecost to purple cloth to prison break to Paul eying the edge of the world, is the story of the Advocate turned loose in the disciples and in the world, making Jesus' promise come true: You will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.
This peace is bigger than the disciples can handle; it will handle them.
Which is the most crucial difference.
In the world, peace is an elusive reward, a unicorn we try to capture and manage.
In Jesus, peace is a gift, and it surpasses all understanding.
It does not depend on good times or good behavior.
Actually, if anything, it is most frequent when our hearts are most troubled, when we are at our weakest and worst.
When I was nineteen, I drove to a faraway land—central California—to be a camp counselor for the first time, freaking out most of the way.
I knew it was a mistake—I knew I would be awful at it; I would ruin children's lives and turn them away from God forever.
I was in over my head, which was confirmed when I stepped out of the Oldsmobile and into the spiderweb of shadows from the towering redwoods.
I felt a peace so deep I floated in it.
A few years later, as a student pastor, I stopped believing in God and started thinking that maybe I was on the wrong career path.
Out of nowhere, or maybe out of everywhere, peace.
A few years later, balled up on the floor thrashing and bawling with heartbreak I thought would kill me, I felt a sudden calm, even a weird and inexplicable joy.
I did not achieve it or deserve it.
Each time, and several more since, peace has come as a surprise gift.
Because the peace of God is of a different quality altogether.
Sally Purvis puts her finger on it:
The power of the cross, God's power, is not controlling.
God did not intervene in the crucifixion, arranging events so that the power of life would violently vanquish violence or control its outcome.
Violence did its worst, and love and life went on...
The power of the cross, the power of God, the power of life, the power of love simply is not amenable to our categories of experience if those categories emanate from the expectations and values of control.
We join many early Christians in remaining lost, confused, somehow disappointed by the gospel if what they and we want from it is better control, more power to manipulate ourselves, each other, and God. (Purvis, Sally B.. The Power of the Cross: Foundations for a Feminist Ethic of Community, p. 77. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.)
Jesus spends four long, painfully wordy chapters trying to get this through to his disciples, with no apparent success, because our "categories" are so dominant and deep.
But Jesus will not be trapped by them.
He keeps providing peace that does not depend on our understanding or earning or trusting it.
He keeps trying to teach them before turning it over to the Advocate.
Finally, at the very end of it all, he says:
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
In the world, you face persecution.
But take courage; I have conquered the world!
The next day, it appeared that the world had conquered him, flexing its violent, controlling power at the cross.
I do not give to you as the world gives, says the crucified one, whose power is utterly different and ultimately deeper.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
So Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.