Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
When I heard those words at mass last night, I felt a resonance with the first reading, psalm, and second reading that I hadn't expected. And I heard some of what I've learned from Dominic Crossan about the gospels and other writings of the Christian scriptures, too. "Not as the world gives." My mind now does not go, as it has been led by homilies in the past, to the world of the spiritual, the afterlife, the alternative world of heaven. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but people don't get crucified for "spiritual" messages. Spiritual messages are not a threat to people with legions, guns, and drones.
What I did hear was an echo of that choice that Mark made clear in the first verses of that first gospel, and which the later gospels reiterated in their own language: everyone has a choice to make. "Turn away from sin, and believe the good news." There are two ways of doing things. The world's way, Romes way, the way of the powerful and elite is one. And God's way is the other. Two emperors. Two gods. They can't both be god, and we can't follow both of them. One is "off the mark," one is sin. We have to turn away from one, so that we can see and love (believe) the other.
Jesus's implied message to his peasant audience was, "How is that Roman version of 'peace' working out for ya?"
Crossan makes this point over and over again, pointing to the titles given to Jesus in the New Testament as titles already given to and claimed by the Caesars starting with Augustus: God, son of God, savior of the world, light from lights, prince of peace. The preaching of Jesus, the "good news" or gospel (the word is from the military vocabulary for 'victory proclamation'), was that there was indeed an alternative to this "god" who ruled by violence and threats of violence, who perpetuated a system where a few had nearly everything and most barely eked out a subsistence living. There is, Jesus says, an alternative to "peace through violence." What Jesus offered in the "reign (or empire) of God" was "peace through justice," peace through right relationship, peace through agape. Jesus offered a God who is Abba, and not a general, a judge, or brutal imperator.
Peace I leave with you; my peace i give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
When I heard those words, I heard "I don't give you 'peace' like the Romans give you peace, or like your priests give you peace, by cooperating with their brutal system. I've lived and shown you a way to live differently. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Follow me. Expect nothing more than what happened to me. Take up your cross. But things are changing. We have sown weeds in their field that can't be uprooted. The victory is already won, wait for it. Believe in it. Live together for one another. There is immense joy in that, in this world, here and now. Whatever happens, I will be with you, God will be with you, in the Holy Spirit, living wherever you live."
The "new Jerusalem" is that transformed world, not brought from earth to heaven, but come to earth from heaven. It's already here. It begins when we talk with each other, work difficult things out, let go of old habits of hate and prejudice that keep other people out of our lives. It begins in communities like the Acts communities, which, instead of fighting or seceding or starting over or ignoring the gospel, plead the case of the Word, passionately and even with disagreement, but come to a new place of acceptance and radical change. (Editorial remark: this is radical change, organic change that seems revolutionary, but is in fact radical, sprung from the root of the word planted in us. Let those hear who have ears.) The psalm today, "let all the nations praise you," or the seasonal Easter psalm 66 which we sang, "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy," reverberates with a vision of a new world, not just one nation and one people with an insular or particular claim on the divine, but all the earth crying out to the one God who makes all things new.
What does it mean to "rise from the dead?" Today, to me, the gospel reassures me that I must continue to hope and believe when the voices of power, voices with guns, unlimited wealth, even voices with crosses, crescents, crosiers, or six-pointed star, all the trappings of faith-that-separates, voices that claim that power is majority rule, or divine ordination, or is anything other than the one God's power of coming down, the power of washing feet, of service, of kenosis, try to threaten or frighten us into compromising the gospel. They have lost the fight. We cannot build up any empire that lasts. We can only bend down to enter one, carrying a bowl of water and a towel. Dialogue, not force, builds the world. The Word builds the world. We cannot build a world that reaches to heaven, like the fabled artisans of Babel. Heaven comes here, as a gift.
It is so hard to accept this. I don't know about you, but I'm so enmeshed and tangled in the world of reciprocity, of buying and selling, of owning, of the wrong kind of compromise, of selective ignorance and complicity in the poverty and death of others, that I see no clear way of extricating myself. Love my enemies? I can't even love some of the people I work with, and we're supposedly on the same side. And yet, as I played through the last two of our six first communion masses, I kept asking myself, Isn't the gospel, the real gospel, the gospel of equality, of children of one Abba, of power being service, the only story worth telling, handing on, living and dying for?
To rise from the dead is to stop cooperating with death, and to live for God who is life, abundant life for all. First communion or three thousand and first communion, that's the meaning of the table. "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord." It doesn't get much plainer than that. There's no way to resurrection except through the cross. That's why grappling with that question, "what does it mean to rise from the dead," is so blessedly important.