Pass the Peace
Peace has to be one of the most misunderstood and elusive concepts in our world. Everyone talks about it, but few have any concept of what it means. In Israel, we say shalom (peace) when we meet someone and when we say goodbye to them. When we greet one another and say “how are you;” we are literally saying “how’s your peace?” We frame our relationships with words of peace, yet the very prevalence of the word seems to empty it of meaning, trivializing the enormity of the concept.
Peace in today’s world, at best, means a temporary cease-fire. Peace has become a fragile, unstable commodity. And yet we sing of it, long for it, demonstrate for it and some of us earnestly seek to live as people of peace in the midst of constant conflict that simmers beneath the surface of our lives and often erupts in violence.
The peace we long for is fully embodied in the biblical concept of shalom, and it means much more than cessation of hostility. In its full meaning, shalom is wholeness, integration, completion. It is a state of being wherein the individual is fully at rest, confident in his place in God’s world, settled in himself and in his relationship to the rest of God’s creation. This peace is beyond our human understanding. Peace is not an abstract concept. It is a living reality that demands we walk in a new place of harmony with God, ourselves, nature, and the rest of humanity. It is inclusive and embracing. It is not an idyllic hope that will someday be realized.
Jesus told us that peacemakers are blessed and will be called the children of God. When he spoke these words to his disciples, he was quoting from Psalm 34:14, where the word peacemakers in the original Hebrew means those who pursue peace. Peace, therefore, is not something we “make” but rather something we must intentionally seek and even chase after. It does not come naturally or easily. There is effort involved. As I read Jesus’ words in context, from the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, I see that each of the beatitude statements which begin with “blessed” relate to the inner life of an individual. Why then is the statement about peace always put immediately in the context of activity? I’ve recently become convinced that the first place we must seek and pursue peace is in our own inner selves, in our basic orientation, and only then in our interactions with others. If we don’t ourselves have peace within, we cannot begin to share it with others. Our words and our actions will be empty shells.
We often speak of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as intractable. And it is that on many levels. Wherever we look there are signs of conflict. Unrest and anxiety are a constant presence in our societies. When we speak of peace, what kind of peace are we looking for? I propose that we pursue peace on as many levels as we can, beginning with the inner peace that’s promised to us as followers of Jesus. From there, our relationships with others, whether family, friends, strangers or enemies, can be characterized by harmony, serenity and goodwill. As those who know God’s peace, we are compelled to move beyond words and offer peace to all.
One of the beautiful elements in traditional church liturgy is the sharing or the passing of peace to one another— with directly spoken words, and clasping of hands. This is a powerful gesture if we do it intentionally. As a beginning, let’s be those who actively pass the peace.