Like the Hawaiian greeting Aloha or the Hebrew Shalom, the greeting “Peace be with you” is a common way that Christians introduce themselves into a common situation as well as depart from it. I began to think of this phrase the other day when I left the hospital and out of habit I said “peace be with you” to someone who was unconscious. Like many things we do saying “peace be with you” is something that I was taught to say but never really gave a great deal of thought to it until I decided to look it up in the bible.
Peace be with you is a quintessential New Testament phrase with the only close relation in the Old Testament found in Job which loosely translated says, may you find peace in the fact that God is with you. This is not too far off from what the writers Luke and John point to in their use of Peace be with you. In each occurrence, it is in the voice of Christ and is often linked to a deeper revelation of Christ. In John 20, in each of three appearances, the risen Lord greets the disciples with “peace be with you.” I hope you realize the humorous nature of Christ’s appearances here since in each appearance they are behind closed doors, in the dark. Obviously the disciples were not at peace even though the revelation had come to fruition. Therefore, we can see the spark of irony even humor that is found here.
Most of the other places in the New Testament we find this phrase in the midst of the Pauline epistles. In Greek the word “peace” is εἰρήνη. The Friburg Lexicon says that:
εἰρήνη, ης, ἡ peace; (1) literally, as a state of peace (LU 14.32), opposite πόλεμος (armed conflict, war); figuratively, as an agreement between persons (JA 3.18), in contrast to διαμερισμός (division, dissension); (2) as a greeting or farewell corresponding to the Hebrew word shalom: health, welfare, peace (to you) (1T 1.2); (3) as a religious disposition characterized by inner rest and harmony peace, freedom from anxiety (RO 15.13); (4) as a state of reconciliation with God (GA 5.22); (5) of an end-time condition, as the salvation of mankind brought about through Christ's reign (LU 2.14; AC 10.36).
Peace can be difficult to achieve especially when we place ourselves in the middle of controversy or distress. If there is anything that we learn form Job or the Gospel of John is that peace is a function that can only be a result of our allowing God to work his peace in this world.
Some might say “but I do work for peace. I . . .” but here is the real kicker. In order for peace to grab hold we need to let ourselves be given over to God, no strings attached. Granted, this is virtually impossible in the midst of our society. We operate, myself included, in the reality and complexity of our social structure, which causes us to give up peace in lieu of safety, security, and sometimes personal comfort.
In discussing Grace, Bonhoeffer speaks to Costly Grace and Cheap Grace. He argues that the grace God offers is a costly one because in its end it calls us to give everything over to God rather than a cheap grace which requires nothing. Here is where Peace and grace become similar in that true peace will come only when the whole of the earth accepts and welcomes that peace. Until then we can only work on our little corner of the world to work for peace.
In our community, putting God’s call for us to work for justice and equal voice among all the residents of our community is one way to bring peace among us. Among many ways to bring peace to our part of the world is to reach out to others, reconciling with estrangements, Opening our ears and eyes to see and hear how God it calling us is yet another, and changing to meet other people’s needs.
So when we turn to each other on Sunday morning and offer the peace, I hope you remember this note. I hope that you see that when we say “Peace be with you,” we are making a pledge to work together as a community. Furthermore, we are calling each other to step out of our “box” and let the spirit of God guide us in whichever way God chooses. In this, I say:
Peace be with you,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen