The Rev. Frank
The Last Will of Jesus Christ
When great cathedrals were built, the architects saw their task as setting the Gospel into stone and glass. Traveling around a cathedral taught the Gospel stories in the very building itself, through stained glass, statues, and other architectural details.
Today we have the Gospel reading in which Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Words so important to a church named King of Peace that this saying of Jesus’ is written on the wall in our entry hall. I want to pause to consider this space in which we meet. In what way does our church teach what we mean when we say Jesus is the King of Peace.
First, look at the cross over our altar, which is the same cross used in our logo. This cross presents in picture form, what we mean when we declare Jesus to be the King of Peace. For we declare Christ to be the King of Peace in a world that does not always seem peaceful. In fact, our world is quite the opposite.
The swirls on the cross represent the very real chaos, in our lives, in our families, in our towns, and in our world. If you were an ant crawling across the face of that cross, all you would see, all you could know, would be that chaos—things out of control.
The cross points to a deeper reality. The deeper reality is that no matter how out of control life may seem to get, it is never beyond the power of God. Anything that happens in our lives, in our world, is not beyond the power of God’s love as revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ. The swirls in the cross are contained within the boundaries of the cross. Nothing we are experiencing is beyond God’s power to heal and to transform.
Look above the cross to the stained glass window with a dove descending. The image of the Holy Spirit descending as a dove comes to us from the story of Jesus’ baptism. All four Gospels tell that as Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. As Jesus came out of the waters of baptism, a voice from the heavens declared, “This is my son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove. That story gives us the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove, but it is not the story of our window.
The story behind our stained glass is found in Genesis chapter 1, where we are told that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in creation. The creation story is not just creation out of nothingness, but creation out of chaos, with the waters below divided from the waters above. God created order out of the chaos. Watery colors swirl around the dove in the window. Some of the colors out of place, some colors are coming into order. Order is coming to chaos.
But the Christian story of creation is not the story of a one-time event. Our story is not that God created everything one time long ago and then backed away from the creation. That is a story that is told, it is the story of Deism. Deism describes a God who created everything and like a watchmaker wound it up, set things in motion, and then left it running with only a passing, perhaps distracted interest in what happens next. That is not the Christian story.
The Christian story is that God created everything and continues in creation, in making order out of chaos. Creation is ongoing, rather than a one-time, past tense only event. Creation is occurring all the time. To picture that ongoing act of creation over this cross is to say through art that the God who created everything that is is still active in that creation. God is still bringing order to our chaos.
Move to the floor. Just glance at the floor and it looks like a maze with a lot of wrong turns and blind alleys. It is, rather, a labyrinth, with one path in and one path and the same path out. The labyrinth came to be a part of some of the great cathedrals of Europe such as the one in Chartres, France, which is the one after which our labyrinth is patterned. Labyrinths were a popular addition to a cathedral in the 1200s, when pilgrimages to the Holy Lands and other holy sites were gaining popularity. Not everyone could afford to go on a pilgrimage. The labyrinth offered a spiritual pilgrimage right in the cathedral.
Just as we worship over the labyrinth at King of Peace, so would the congregations stand on the labyrinth to worship—there were no pews, or chairs of any kind for the congregation in those days. When the cathedral was not in use for worship, one could use the labyrinth as a prayer tool. One way to walk the labyrinth is to enter thinking of those things you must let go of to be more fully in God’s presence. Of course, God is present everywhere, not just in the church, or just in the labyrinth. But consider what are the things everywhere that keep you from experiencing God’s presence.
On arriving in the center, you are conscious of being in God’s presence. Without expectation of what that means, you abide in that presence for a time. Open yourself to God being there with you, in you. When ready, the spiritual pilgrim walks out of the labyrinth, considering what is it that I take away from this experience of God’s presence.
This experience of the labyrinth is another way of asking, “What are the ways in which I am not living into the peace of God?” What would I have to let go of to be more fully aware of God’s presence.
Those are three ways in which this space in which we meet speaks of Jesus Christ as the King of Peace.
Return with me to today’s Gospel reading. Notice when this passage occurs. Jesus speaks of leaving his peace when he is with his disciples for the last time. This is the discussion following the last supper. Sometimes called the final discourse, it is where John’s Gospel gives us the words Jesus has for his disciples before the world turns upside down. These are the words Jesus intends to get them through his arrest, his crucifixion and burial. These are the words that will have to carry the disciples through Good Friday to Easter.
Jesus says, “My peace I leave with you.” This passage was originally written in Greek. The Greek word does mean leave, that is not a bad translation, but that word leave has an additional weight to its meaning. It was used in a judicial context with a last will and testament. In a will you would say, “I leave this to so and so.” It could be translated “I bequeath” or “I give to you as part of your inheritance.”
Jesus says, “My peace I bequeath to you, I will it to you.” Jesus will for his disciples is peace. He knows his disciples will need this peace and need it right then. Very soon. Within an hour or so, Jesus will be arrested and his followers will be scattered. These are not throw away words when he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus knows the easiest thing in the world will be for his disciples to let their hearts be troubled, and to let themselves be afraid.
Notice Jesus says, they are not to let it happen. The peace he gives is a deeper reality. That peace, which is found in God’s presence will be in control on Good Friday and Holy Saturday and in to Easter. The disciples will not see that peace is in control if they allow their hearts to be troubled and afraid.
While the New Testament is written in Greek, we know that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Aramaic is to Hebrew what our modern English is to Middle English. Aramaic was the spoken Hebrew of Jesus’ time. Jesus’ own vocabulary was one from the Hebrew scripture, that we refer to as the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, a word that means much more than the English word, “peace.”
When we speak of peace, we refer to a lack of war or hostility. The word shalom is that and much more. Shalom means “health, well-being, and wholeness of body, mind and spirit.” Shalom is completeness. That is what Jesus wills to those who follow him.
Jesus did not leave a lack of hostility, he knew hostility was coming. Jesus had no intention of preventing the violence that was already on its way. Jesus willed a deeper sense of well being when the whole world seems to be falling apart. When it seems like the power of darkness is the only power in the world, Jesus calls his disciples to tap into a deeper well, a hidden source of refreshment.
Jesus did not promise to prevent the chaos. Instead, Jesus promised to be in the chaos and to make sense of it. Jesus promised to be with us in and through the chaos.
Some people say, “Jesus never promised a rose garden.” It is an interesting saying, because we do find gardens in the story. There is the Garden of Eden where the first humans choose to disobey God. And there is the Garden of Gethsemene later this same evening. Jesus will pray in that garden that he will not have to face the suffering and death that is to come. Yet, Jesus then says, “Not my will, but yours.”
So in a sense, Jesus did promise a garden. Jesus said there will be times when the world seems completely out of control and you won’t know how to face the future. The only reasonable response in a time like that is to be troubled and to be afraid.
Right before his disciples are to encounter that Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus says, “The thing I will to you, the thing I most want you to inherit from me, is shalom. Jesus wills wholeness, peace of mind, body and spirit. Not simply healing as in a return to health, but a deeper, more complete healing.
Jesus not only gave shalom to his disciples, Jesus showed them what shalom looks like. Jesus showed love and shalom in the midst of the worst the world has to offer. Jesus told his disciples “I do not give to you as the world gives.” The world was about to give Jesus torture and death in return for love. In the midst of that Jesus stayed the course so that he could declare on the cross “It is finished,” everything he had to do was completed. Then he gave up his spirit. Jesus was tapped into the deeper peace, the shalom of God, that knew what everyone could see on that Good Friday was not the end. There was more.
What Jesus willed to those of us who follow him is that when your life is falling apart and everything seems out of control, remember that those circumstances are not beyond my ability to redeem. Jesus gift was not a lack of hostility, a lack of things going wrong, a lack of chaos.
Jesus says, my gift is an acknowledgement that everything will fall apart and I will be with you in the midst of that chaos with you and I will see you through it. That was the peace that Jesus left for us, the peace Jesus willed to us. Jesus gift was the promise that when you are in the garden praying and you don’t know how to lift your head to face even the next moment, he will be there in that moment and beyond.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526