Vincentian View: “Peace be with you”
If you have gotten messages from me, you will see that I most often finish my notes with “Peace” or “Peace in the Risen Lord” or some such variation on “peace.” Many people may feel that it is a left over from my hippie-days and the “peace” culture of that 60’s era. Actually, that is not the intent. I have been struck for a long time by the greeting which Jesus offers to his disciples after the Resurrection. He appears to these friends and the first words which he speaks to them are: “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19, 26) and sometimes, more than once (Jn 20:21). John’s Gospel on this coming Sunday contains the phrase three times. Jesus appears to his disciples on successive Sundays and greets them with “Peace be with you.”
After all the fear and fleeing and violence and recriminations (and more fear) of the past few days, his wish for them is “shalom.” And this carries a wealth of meanings. He is telling them that everything is all right; he is with them again and will never leave them alone. He is telling them that everything is forgiven and that they need to let go of their guilt. He understands their stories. He wants them to be at peace in every sense of the word because now he is going to begin to prepare them in a special way for their mission for the Father with the help of the Holy Spirit. “Peace be with you.”
I identify three places in the liturgy where “peace” has a special place.
First of all, in the opening greeting of the liturgy, the Bishop is permitted to say simply “Peace be with you.” Only a Bishop may use this greeting at the beginning of mass. If it were permitted to me, I would use it regularly. That greeting with which Jesus becomes present once again to the disciples after all their difficulties seems particularly significant to me for greeting a community of people who are gathering together with a variety of backgrounds and issues with which they are dealing. It reminds people that their Lord is still with them and that ultimately things will work out. It reminds us that we can be forgiven for whatever wrongs which we have done and that the Lord does understand us. It invites us to cast off our fears and rejoice in the one who is raised to new life and who invites us to that life. It is above all, in my hearing, a sign of hope. All problems are not solved, but the solution to all problems is among us.
A second occurrence of this greeting in the Eucharist is the sign of peace. Does it seem to you that sometimes people do not want to make use of this symbol? (Are you one of them?) Does it seem childish to invite people to shake hands or acknowledge the presence of a stranger or say something to someone whom you do not really know? Does that seem like something from some seminar or other? How about this: we have heard the one Gospel together, and we have prayed that Jesus will be present among us in the elements on the altar and that he now is, and we are about to form the body of Christ together in a special way as we all receive from that one loaf and drink from the one cup? Acknowledging the existence and dignity of the other is important in this regard. The poorest of people shake hands with the most affluent. People, who could never get in to the office of the person next to whom they are sitting, share a greeting of equals and sincerely wish the best for the other. Democrats and Republicans clasp hands. Those at one end of the spectrum of life acknowledge those at the other end. I wish that everyone in the world could exchange this sign of peace with an unknown stranger each day. What a difference that would make! Can you see the risen Lord shaking hands with the disciples and wishing them peace? We should be able to do that with each other.
A third place where it is proclaimed for the community is at the end of the mass. The celebrant can speak to the community: “Go in the peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord.” We are greeted in peace and we are sent forth in peace. That is the nature of the missioning. We bring the peace of Christ to the world. Sometimes a celebrant may add a remark which I think is unhelpful at this point: “Have a nice day” or some such. That is what “Go in the peace of Christ means”: Have a very nice day by making Christ the center of your life and action. Peace be with you!