On Thursday evening before he was arrested, Jesus shared a meal with his friends and talked about what was going to happen next. Even though Jesus had told his disciples that he would end up being killed by the religious authorities (Mt,16.21-23), they couldn’t take it in. Because they believed that Jesus was the Saviour God had promised, they assumed that meant that he would be successful, which for them meant that he would let the good times, predicted in the later OT writing, roll. Suffering did not figure in their expectations. Jesus was concerned that what was going to happen to him would fatally injure their faith. And indeed, in the case of Judas, it did. Peter and Thomas had their own crises.
Contemplating his forthcoming death, Jesus says, ‘Now my soul is troubled’(Jn 12.27). Thinking about Judas’ betrayal of him (that act which validated his concern that the friends he’d spent time teaching were not going to be able to maintain their trust in him), the Bible says he was ‘very troubled in spirit’ (Jn 13.21).
Jesus was faced with organised, malicious opposition underwritten by Roman rule. Humanly speaking his trust in his Father was being intensely tested. Who had heard of anyone coming back from the dead? Religiously speaking how could he be the Messiah and die in naked shame? His friends understood as much as they could, but in Luke’s account of the last meal, they are seen arguing over which of them would be the greatest when Jesus established his kingdom (Lk. 22.24-28). They had found a couple of swords (Lk.22.38) which they thought would be useful. Although Jesus said told them put the weapons away, Peter did take a sword with him and violently attacked one of the party who came to arrest Jesus (Lk 22.50). His friends thoughts were still focussed on an earthly king and the status it would bring them which is why the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is so pertinent.
In John’s Gospel, it is in exactly this difficult place of misunderstanding and tension that Jesus says to his friends, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; and do not let them be afraid’ (Jn.14.27).
At this moment of intense pressure, his care for his friends is truly astonishing. He leaves them his peace which is the English translation of the Hebrew word, ‘Shalom’.
As has often been said, peace is only one of the aspects of this rich concept. It also means a widespread flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which everybody has what they needs and their talents are used for their own purpose and pleasure which overflows to others…Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
In our current time of need, it might seem to us that God is absent, or hidden or overcome by current events. But that is not the case. Our world has been turned upside down by Covid 19; and there is much that instils fear; those terrible human fears of illness, of suffering and of death itself. But that doesn’t mean God is not there. Jesus still says to us, as he said to his friends so long ago, ‘My peace I give you’. I give you the world as it should be not as it is.
As you continue to pray for NHS and social care workers,
for food producers, for essential workers,
for scientists looking for a vaccine,
for children and families indoors,
for those whose income has ceased,
for those who are ill and for those who are dying;
as you care, as you work, as you volunteer
and as you perform endless unseen acts of kindness
I am praying for you all that your hearts will not be troubled and that you will know his peace. But so much better than that, Jesus himself is praying for us. We know that he always lives to make intercession for us to the Father (Heb.7.25).
For those of you who bear the responsibilities of church leadership, have a shalom-filled Easter.
Dr Beth Dickson is a Senior Lecturer in The University of Glasgow’s School of Education