Near the end of his ministry, Jesus Christ tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” They are anxious because they are worried about being alone without their beloved teacher.
Jesus assures them, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).
This scripture passage is appropriate for anyone who feels lonely or anxious. Peace is exactly what we need: an abiding sense of well-being and a feeling of assurance that we are held in love. It is no coincidence that this passage is often read during funerals, when family and friends are also feeling alone and anxious.
We usually think of anxiety as something particular to an individual who is stressed, but therapists who study family systems know that it can be passed from person to person within an emotional system like a family or even a congregation. Tell me if this situation sounds familiar: You have a terrible day at work, and it feels like everything has gone wrong. When you arrive home, you totally unload on your spouse, telling him or her everything that has happened. By the end of the conversation, you are feeling a lot better, but now your spouse is tense and anxious.
Perhaps you have done this? Or perhaps your spouse or a friend has done this to you? It’s not all bad. Spouses and friends are supposed to be there to share each other’s burdens. And yet, if we are not careful, we can deal with our own stress by simply passing it on to another. When this becomes a chronic pattern, it can be very destructive.
Fortunately, peace can also be shared from person to person. Jesus leaves his peace with the disciples so that they will not be gripped by anxiety and their hearts will not be troubled even when he is gone. Jesus does not give as the world gives. The world gives with conditions and expectations of return. The world rarely gives peace, but Jesus gives his peace. Jesus’ peace is not just an expression of good intention, but an actual force for transformation, a strength that combats anxiety and fear.
Jesus gives us a gift of peace that can be shared, a gift that can combat the anxiety and fear we feel in the world. We have a responsibility to build each other up by sharing this peace with one another. Perhaps we share it with a kind word, a warm embrace, a warm meal or with a short note, a phone call, an email, or a smile.
Perhaps we share it by simply being present with sisters and brothers who are lonely, or by standing up for those who are marginalized and cannot speak up for themselves, or by forgiving someone who has wronged us. Perhaps we share Christ’s peace by reassuring others that they are valued and loved, that they are beloved children of God. However you share it, you will be an instrument of healing. You will be spreading a sense of calm and chasing away anxieties and fears. You will be a witness to God’s love that is big enough for all of us.
The Rev. Cader Howard is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 6201 Osgood Ave. North in Stillwater. Contact him at 651-439-4380 or visit www.fpc-stillwater.org