Most of Jesus’ friends abandoned him after his arrest. They found a place to hide, locked the doors, dragged over the couch, and piled up chairs. They were afraid the authorities would find them and arrest them too. But they got found anyway. By Jesus.
Somehow he got through the barricade and spoke to them.
What did he say?
“I’m disappointed in you.”
“It’s payback time.”
He said, “Shalom.” “Peace be with you.”
As if nothing bad had happened three days before. As if they’d never hurt him.
He said, “Shalom.” “Peace.”
Now “Shalom” was an ordinary word. A way to say, “Good morning,” or “Good-bye.” It was an all-purpose greeting, as normal as “Hi, how are you?
Picture it, then—Jesus walks through doors to be with friends who never expected to see him again. After what they’d done to him, they probably hoped they never would.
Now he’s here. They’re thinking, ‘Oh, no.” But he’s saying, “Hi.” Shalom.
And with that one ordinary word, their hearts fill up with blessing as beautiful as the blessing God said over creation in the beginning.
With that one, everyday word, their dreary hiding place turns into the Garden of delights Adam and Eve enjoyed before they listened to the Snake.
When Jesus says that unexpected, ordinary little word, it’s like the first day of creation all over again. Morning breaks like the first morning, blackbird speaks like the first bird, and there’s dewfall on the first grass.
“Peace,” he says, and his beleaguered, frightened, wounded, confused, self-protecting, weak, vacillating, sinful, fair-weather friends are made new.
In other words, “It’s over. It’s past. We begin again.”
And then, the story says, he breathed on them.
Just like when God breathed into a lump of clay once upon a time, and the first human came alive, Jesus breathed on his lumpy, lifeless friends. He moved around the room and breathed on them.
It was like he planted a big breathy kiss on each of them.
Or like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which makes sense, since he was on a rescue mission. His disciples were as good as dead. Worry and shame had sucked the life right out of them. So he kissed them with God’s breath. The breath entered them, and they came to life.
And then he commissioned the “kissees” to become “kissers.” To go and breathe God’s healing breath on the whole wide world. He made them emissaries of breathing. People who’d do for others what he’d done for them—to show mercy where no mercy is expected; to pardon when no pardon is deserved; to go around the circle of the world planting God’s kiss on everything.
The early Christians also took that kiss and turned it into a ritual. They practiced it among themselves when they gathered on Sundays to worship. They did it every week so that no one would ever forget the new lease on life Jesus gives us; so that no one would ever forget his command to share his life with the world. They passed the peace.
Now in ancient times when a worship leader said, “Share with each other a sign of peace!”, people actually kissed. And some church members liked it so much they smooched their way around the circle several times. Some tried to practice exotic kissing techniques too. Church leaders had to make strict rules about the kiss of peace. But they never did away with it.
We’re still doing it. Every Sunday. Minus the exotic smooching. Handshakes and hugs are more our style.
Most of us like this time in worship. But some people don’t. They’re bothered by all the hubbub. Some worry about germs. Sometimes people who have suffered unwanted touches feel a little unsafe in all the hugging and handshaking, even thought they know they’re among friends. One woman in my former church didn’t like it because she sometimes fought with her husband on the way to church, and by the time they got to their pew they weren’t speaking. Then, ten minutes later they had to turn to each other and say, “Peace be with you,” and mean it.
It can be awkward. It can require some safeguards. It can be annoying. But we keep doing it. We can’t do without it. Because the more we do it, the greater the chance that what it stands for will come true. The greater the chance that Jesus’ refreshing life will become our own. The greater the chance that over time, a little word and a human touch will bring us back from all the places in our lives where we are dead or dying, restore us to the Garden, to the land of the living, to the ranks of the dearly loved. And the greater the chance we’ll also heed the call to be emissaries of pardon and peace in the world.
It’s not important how we do it—shake hands, hug, nod, good eye contact. What matters is to stand in the midst of a broken world and in the midst of an imperfect church, say “Shalom,” and mean it. What matters is that we assure each other, “It’s okay, it’s over, we can begin again. Jesus is with us.”
It’s important, this moment when we turn to each other and really intend the healing peace of Christ for people we know well and love a lot, for people we know too well and dislike a lot, for strangers we don’t know at all, and for the one who always picks a fight on the way to church.
The promise in this practice is that Sunday by Sunday, Christ’s peace will resurrect us from the little deaths of anger, anxiety, resentment, shame, fear, and narrowness we die each day. Sunday by Sunday, giving and receiving peace will become a habit, so that wherever we go, whomever we meet, our first and last word to all will be, “Shalom.”
Jesus once burst into a hiding place and said to his ashamed disciples, “Shalom.” In this room today, some of us are ashamed of something, or restless about the past, or anxious about the future, or fearful that God is mad at us, or doubtful about God’s care for us. Some of us are just tired. We have broken hearts. We worry about family and friends. Life is hard. We need all the life we can get.
Lucky for us, it’s here. In hugs, handshakes, and a holy word. Peace.
Christ is among us. No barriers we build can keep him away. No fear or shame of ours can overcome his eagerness for us, the apple of his eye, the loves of his life.
Every week he comes into our midst and gives us the ancient gift again. Shalom. Peace.
A new day. A new chance. A new beginning. A fresh and durable hope.
Receive it with joy. And pass it on.