The first words of Jesus when he joins the apostles in the upper room are: “Peace be with you”.
Because we are told that they were locked in to that room “for fear of the Jews”, I have always been inclined to think of Jesus’ greeting as meaning: “Do not be afraid”. However, in recent times, I have come to see it a little bit differently.
This is the first meeting of the disciples with the risen one. He says: “Peace be with you” – I think he is actually giving them peace. Not peace in the sense of the absence of fear, or the absence of trouble; he is giving them peace – something dynamic, transforming, and lasting; he is not giving them the absence of something; and nor is he trying to console them by telling them that the difficulties they are experiencing will soon pass.
Jesus gives the disciples the gift of peace – a peace that will remain even when there is fear, even when there are difficulties, and even when it seems that everyone else is against them.
There are many ways we could think of this peace. We could regard it as confidence in the fact that what they were doing was right; we could think of it as having a solid and sure foundation on which to rest their hope; it could be certainty or conviction that what they believed was true; or it could be seen as that assurance that astounded those who tried to stop them preaching in the name of Jesus.
The same assurance that empowers them to transform not only their belief system, but their whole way of living, as we have just heard read for us in the first reading.
Whatever the word we might use to describe it, the reality is the same. These ordinary men, afraid of the Jews, unsure of what was to come, stood up, full of confidence, full of conviction that the one they followed, Jesus, from Nazareth, was, in fact, the Christ, the one who had risen from the dead.
This is the reassurance sought by Thomas. In fact, the whole episode with Thomas takes on a different slant depending on how we read it. If we read it as a chastisement it has to do with challenging Thomas’ reluctance to believe and we end up with “Doubting Thomas”. However, if we read it as being words of reassurance, we see it as strengthening Thomas, as enabling him, as filling him with confidence and with peace and then we get a Thomas who is transformed.
Jesus breathes on them and gives them his spirit. This is the same Spirit that will descend dramatically at Pentecost. This is the same Spirit that fills the disciples, and, indeed us, with gifts; the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that we once received at the time of our confirmation – gifts that, even if we don’t often think of them, continue to reside in us.
Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Reverence, and Wonder and Awe in God’s presence.
Seven gifts that we have all received; seven gifts we received when we were breathed upon by the spirit of Jesus. Seven gifts to help us towards the fullness of life; towards finding peace in the midst of our lives.
Having peace doesn’t mean that the difficulties and challenges of life will cease; it doesn’t mean that there is any exemption from the events of life; it does mean that, whatever happens, we have the assurance, the reassurance, that we are loved by God, no matter what. We are wanted by God. We are forgiven by God.
Today’s readings, as the light of Easter begins to dawn on us, are all about reminding us of God’s abiding love for us. They assure us, and they reassure us, that what we believe is true; and they recall for us the gifts we have been given so that, in the words of today’s passage from John’s gospel: “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.”