"Peace with God, Peace of God"
Two oil paint artists were commissioned to put to canvas their best impressions of what
perfect peace might look like. Water was to serve as the prominent image.
The first artist painted what would be called a “pastoral scene.”
At the center of the
composition is a young boy in a small rowboat along a dock on a placid lake. The lake is uniformly surrounded by a variety of evergreen trees. The sky is blue and bright, dotted with few billowy clouds. A fishing pole hangs lazily over the side of the boat. The boy is lying back; eyes closed; hands clasped behind his head; a piece of straw hanging as lazily from his mouth as does the fishing pole from the side of his vessel. The artist used a palate of muted greens and blues to depict a scene in which there appears virtually no turbulence; not even a ripple on the glassy lake.
Artist two took a very different approach. She rendered a painting in bold colors of a raging
waterfall, the wind whipping its cataract into a drenching mist. The water cascades over uneven
rocks, splashing violently into a foamy pool. At the center of the canvas and base of the
waterfall, the artist featured two large boulders. Nestled between them, a bird has built her nest, and sits quietly, presumably protecting the young birds or eggs beneath her. Predatory birds are shown circling high above the pool, appearing to be in search of a meal. The mother bird and her chicks are safe and secure in this sanctum; actually shielded and protected from the predators by the roaring falls.
How differently these two artists projected on canvas their respective understandings of a
state which is integral to the Christian faith: Peace. In fact, we call today on our Presbyterian
calendar World Communion/Peacemaking Sunday. What does peace look like to you? Is it the
painting of a placid lake, or the painting of a safe haven in the midst of tumult? Which of the
two depicts peace as you best understand it? I would suggest that there is a legitimate
impression of peace in both paintings for us as Christians.
Our passage from John finds Jesus at table with His disciples for what would be His last meal
before His violent execution. At this point, Jesus is fully aware of what is about to happen over
the next twenty four hours. He’s not deluded Himself, nor has He been deluding His followers,
into thinking that there would be a peaceful exit from His earthly life…… At least not peaceful
from the world’s point of view. Jesus would not somehow be gently airlifted from the middle of
life’s foamy pool into the waiting arms of His Father, just in the nick of time to avoid the coming
cataclysm. Jesus knows that He is about to be subjected to the fury and violence of an
The disciples are as confused as Jesus is certain. Jesus has just finished washing their feet
which they found inappropriate, even offensive as voiced by Simon Peter. Now Jesus seems to
be speaking in riddles about going to prepare rooms in His Father’s house, and about sending
forth some Counselor after His departure from the world. In accordance with the widely-held
view of a promised Messiah, the disciples along with most everyone else in Israel have been
looking for, expecting, and planning for a new age of peace; an era which would be inaugurated
when the Messiah would put all enemies beneath His feet. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem earlier
that week was taken as a sign that the Messiah had finally arrived. And with His arrival came the
assurance that peace was on the near horizon. In light of this, what the disciples are now
hearing from Jesus makes little sense. In the midst of this confusion, Jesus speaks what seems
like another riddle: “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.” We can
imagine Peter and the other disciples saying under their breaths: “Jesus, we love you with all our
hearts, and we’ll follow you anywhere. But you’re making us crazy with this kind of cryptic talk.
Just what is this peace You speak of?” I believe there are two layers of meaning when Jesus
speaks of peace; like two artist’s different expressions of the same reality.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus assures. Is this peace of which Jesus speaks the Jewish
concept of “shalom; an idyllic state of perfect harmony, tranquility, serenity, security, abundance, justice served community at rest? Is it the artist’s image of a boy in a boat floating motionless along some Lake Woebegone? Knowing what Jesus knows of the next twenty four hours, that doesn’t seem to fit the picture. Jesus is soon to agonize in the garden. He is soon to be tried by a kangaroo court of religious leaders. He will be mocked and scourged by soldiers who seem to delight in inflicting pain. He will be hung to perish in the blazing sun. This hardly sounds like shalom.
The peace which Jesus is about to leave His disciples is not the worldly peace they or we
might imagine. What Jesus is about to leave is peace with God the Father; reconciliation of a
human condition of sin with the divine holiness of humankind’s Creator. By submitting Himself
into the hands of human fury, Jesus is about to make intimate relationship with Almighty God
available to those who had formerly rejected Almighty God. Throughout the history of the
church, orthodox Christianity has spoken in terms of the sacrifice of Jesus appeasing a God who
is angry with human sin. That is one of the aspects of remembrance in our celebration of holy
communion ; remembering that Jesus’ death was a consummate act of self-sacrificial love.
These days, much Christian preaching is criticized as being “watered down,” so as not to be
offensive, politically-incorrect, overly demanding, etc. To dare speak of God’s indignation seems
to paint a portrait of a God we’d not want to meet in some dark alley. I personally don’t like the
idea of an angry God. Yet preachers of the Puritan era of American Christianity were not shy
about this touchy theological subject we tend to water down. Have any of you ever heard the
name Jonathan Edwards? He was an 18th century New England preacher who is famous for a
hair-raising sermon he once delivered entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” From the
title, it doesn’t sound like one of those messages which would send the listener home feeling all
warm and fuzzy. But it is actually a well-balanced piece of homiletic. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might
and majesty and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable
strength of your torment.” We are not likely to shout out, “Tell us more, Pastor Jonathan! Tell
us more!” But he does give us more. And herein lies the balance: “Yet now we have an extra-
ordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands
in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners.”
We could say that from a theological perspective, it was necessary for the sake of humankind
for Jesus to make peace with God; to leave peace with God on our behalf. No, it was clearly not
the way of peace Jesus went. The painting of Calvary is not a placid one, but rather a painting of
violence and fury against the Son of God. It was a pouring out unto death which ironically would
allow peace with God to become possible. This peace with God – this reconciliation – is a present reality for all who believe and trust in Jesus the Christ. The peace which Jesus leaves is peace in the midst of tumult.
It is the peace of the mother bird who is in the presence of violent nature, but is shielded and protected. The lake is not without ripples, just as life for any of us is not without its ripples and waves. Even a life at peace with God – reconciled with God – is no guarantee that storms will not gather around us. But the peace Jesus said He leaves puts us in a relationship with God which ultimately sustains and up-holds us, even in the midst of the world’s crashing waves and cascading waterfalls. The Psalmist puts it well in the 91st Psalm: “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust….. under his wings you will find refuge.”
Jesus goes on: “my peace I give to you.” My peace, not the world’s peace. Not an illusion of
peace. Not words of a peace treaty which are penned today, and pierced by bullets tomorrow.
When Jesus says “my peace,” He means the peace of God. This is the first of the two paintings.
Jesus first promises His disciples peace with God, which is the reconciliation with God we can
experience here and now. Then Jesus promises His disciples the peace of God, which is the
perfect peace we will experience in the yet-to-be fulfilled Kingdom of God. It is that shalom
long-awaited by Jewish and Christian people alike; and I suspect by righteous and faithful people
of every legitimate religion. This peace of Jesus, this peace of God, is not the peace of this
world, nor will it ever be attained in our present mortal state. It is rather what some might call
utopia, the promised land, paradise, the garden, heaven. It is the rendering of the first artist,
placid and pristine. It is the peace which will only be possible when we are in full and total
communion with God the Father. That’s another aspect of our celebration of holy communion
a foretaste of that celestial banquet where perfect peace and harmony is all there will be.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw this coming day when he wrote: “The wolf shall dwell with the
lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling
together, and a little child shall lead them….. they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Both Isaiah and Micah offer more words pointing to the glorious shalom yet to come: “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
So in this morning’s passage from John, Jesus makes this twofold promise: We can have
peace with God, and we can look forward to having the peace of God. Two paintings. One artist. This morning, if you’d not already done so, accept the peace Jesus offers you through His
death on the cross. Accept the spiritual shelter and protection He can offer, even in the twisted
milieu of a furious and violent world. And by accepting this peace with God, you are also held
vouch safe in the peace of God; the resurrection peace of Jesus Christ; eternal and perfect
communion with the One who has created the universe and everything in it; from placid lake to
tumultuous waterfall. Peace with God now. The peace of God forever. It’s no riddle. It’s the
good news of the gospel on this World Communion/Peacemaking Sunday.