For the past few months, I have commenced my Sprachspielen article with an apology, specifically for deviating from the series that I began last November. Due to my slipping memory, I must repeat the exercise for April’s edition of Sprachspielen. It completely escaped my mind that Easter occurs this year in mid-April, and it is my custom on the big, Christian holidays to focus on words that have some kind of connection to each of these events in Church calendar.
This Easter (2022), I have had the profound privilege of being asked to preach on Easter Sunday in some Welsh-speaking chapels in a beautiful, rural area of North-central Wales. As it happened, I ended up preaching twice (in two different chapels) on the day. Often, preachers struggle in preparing sermons for the big, Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. This is not because we do not appreciate them and their significance. It is probably more to do with the fact that we feel great pressure (yes, it is often internal pressure) to come up with something “new to say” about these events in the life of the Church, which are so very familiar to all Christians. In my own sermon preparations over the past few years, I have sort of given up on and released myself from the pressure of having to come up with something “new” to say about the Christmas, Easter, and other events of great significance in the history of our faith. Rather, I have decided to embrace the “reminder” element of looking at these Scriptural accounts of these great events, trying to think of some points to remind us why these events continue to be so significant to us even today, centuries after they occurred. After all and down deep, is this not one of the main reasons that we celebrate these events every year for the past, approximately 2000 years? To make certain that we don’t forget what happened, and how these things changed the world and our own, individual lives and continue to do so to this day?
Consequently, as I was approaching the Scriptural accounts of the Easter story and preparing my points for my Easter sermon this year, I found myself starting with a point or subject, that quite surprised me. It is the word and concept of “peace.” I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it did. I suppose in my mind “peace” is a “Christmas” word. I think it goes back to the recitation from the Christmas story from my childhood that still fills me with joy, even into my adulthood, when I hear it. It is from the animated feature which came out in 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” where young Linus explains the meaning of Christmas by quoting directly from Luke, ending with the familiar passage:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward menLuke 2:13-14
However, as my initial surprise began to wane and I looked more intently at the passages in the Gospels dealing with the Resurrection, the concept of “peace” became obvious as both an integral and encouraging outcome of Jesus’ Resurrection, earning the word a significant place in at least my own retelling of the Easter story from now and henceforth.
What first attracted my attention to “peace” as a part of the Easter message was the announcement of the angel (described as a “young man”) in Mark 16:6: “Do not be alarmed.” It’s an unusual greeting by most standards, but given the circumstances in this instance it was perfectly understandable. But another way of putting this sentiment could just as easily be “Be at peace.” In other words, “don’t be afraid,” “don’t worry,” “don’t trouble yourself,” “calm down,” etc. Matthew 28:5 echoes the words found in Mark’s version: “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Again, they are telling the women at the tomb on that Resurrection morning to embrace the antonym or perhaps even antidote to fear, which is peace. I’ll return to that thought in a moment.
The confirmation of this admonition not to fear but rather to receive and embrace peace found in these accounts of the angel’s initial words to the women at the tomb is the fact that “peace” is one of the primary greetings of Jesus Himself to His disciples, when He appears to them after His resurrection. Following Jesus’ revealing Himself to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He appears to the eleven, and the first words He utters to them are “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). In John’s account of Jesus’ interactions with His disciples following the resurrection, twice in the same encounter, Jesus says “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19 and 20). Then, a week later, Jesus greets His disciples in exactly the same way: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:26).
“Peace” here seems more than social etiquette, simply using the typical Jewish greeting of the day: שָׁלוֹם “Shalom,” which by Jesus’ time had lost much of its original, spiritual depth through overuse. It’s more than polite, wishful thinking, such as we in more modern times might communicate through the rather pedestrian “have a nice day.” Rather, the angel with the women at the tomb and now Jesus with the Eleven seem to be bestowing something new in place of something old, transforming a dream or ideal reserved for some point in the future with something more concrete and immediate. Jesus says “Peace be with you” in Luke and John not as much as a prayer or desire for His friends, but as a commandment to “peace” itself to be and rest upon His disciples. Following the victory of His resurrection, Jesus is well and truly the “Prince of Peace”; He owns peace—it is His. He commands it. He bestows it.
- Through His death and resurrection, Jesus established peace between God and humanity, where once there was enmity: Romans 4:25-5:2a: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
- Jesus made peace possible between peoples, who are enemies or opposed to one another: Ephesians 2:14-18: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
- Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus gifts peace to His people as a permanent part of their personality and perspective: Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
To understand this Biblical/Spiritual concept of “peace,” we must expand our rather one-dimensional view of what “peace” is, or at least how we tend to use the word. Too often we couch our understanding of “peace” in terms of the absence of something. To be more specific, we tend to understand “peace” as the absence of war, conflict, argument, disagreements, etc. between two or more parties. The absence or cessation of conflict, war, etc. is certainly peace. But “peace” is also more than a descriptor for the absence or end of something. It is also a term that refers to the presence and start of something too, something powerful and wonderful and rare in this world. It is the “presence” side of the meaning of “peace” that gets closer to the deeper, Biblical understanding of “shalom” and its Greek translation “εἰρήνη” in the Septuagint and New Testament. It also helps us to understand the difference between “peace” in general, in other words in this world (which is too often very rare and short-lived), and the “peace,” the REAL “peace,” that only comes from God through Christ’s victory over death and conflict and evil and fear. “Peace” in terms of its presence, or the positive pole to the absence of conflict, could be as easily understood as tranquility, calm, quiet/silence (a different word for “peace,” σιωπάω, also “silence”), safety, security, joy, celebration, and confidence. The two sides of “peace,” absence and presence, are very much like two sides of a coin. It takes both sides to make it what it is. Often, the best we can get in this world is the absence side of the coin, and even then, it is usually short-lived and comes at significant cost and sacrifice and becomes more of a status quo, precariously perched and affected by the vicissitudes of geopolitics, economics, and any number of other influences. It is only in Christ that true “shalom” is possible, embracing both the absence of conflict and the presence of all that heaven’s peace affords. In Welsh, we are fortunate to have two words, translated as “peace” in English. There is the general word “heddwch” which corresponds roughly to the general sense of the word “peace” in English. However, there is another word “tangnefedd,” which is falling somewhat out of use in modern speech because of its Biblical/religious origins. I have a good friend, an elderly Welsh preacher, who is loved and respected by all who know him, who once explained to me the etymology of the word “tangnefedd” in Welsh. He said that it comes from two words: “tanc,” an older Welsh word for peace, and “nefoedd” usually translated “heaven.” Consequently, “tangnefedd” is “Heaven’s peace,” and it is usually only used in the Bible and in Christian parlance. Jesus came to bring both “heddwch” and “tangnefedd,” the latter because He is the only one, who can really give us “tangnefedd.” In some ways, it is another understanding of the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” or in other words that “the reign of peace that exists in heaven would exist in the same way on earth.”
I want to revisit a point that I began to make earlier in this article, namely that in many ways peace is both an antonym for and the only lasting antidote to fear and dread. I realise that at first glance, we might think of “courage” as the antidote for and antonym of fear. “Courage” is an extraordinary virtue. We see “courage” valued, bestowed and even commanded in the Bible. A glaring example is Joshua, who is vigorously admonished to be “strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7). Even during the storm, when Jesus is walking on the water out to where the disciples’ boat was in peril, He addresses them with “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
In many ways, “courage” is the fiercest of loves. “Courage” in my admittedly limited and flawed understanding and estimation is essentially the valuing and indeed the loving of someone (Christ, family, friends, and even a stranger in need), someplace (home or Patria), or an ideal or conviction above the natural and perhaps even fundamental instinct of humankind for survival, self-preservation, and the avoidance of pain/suffering. In simpler terms, the object of this great love and value is greater than self, so much so that the “courageous” one gladly sacrifices self for the object of his or her love. However, I say that courage is not really the antonym of “fear,” nor its antidote, because far too often, those who are deemed “courageous” (not solely based on their rhetoric, but by their actions) will readily admit to being terrified even during the midst of their courageous actions. We too quickly and easily equate “fear” with “cowardice,” but the truth is that generally fear and courage exist side-by-side. It is the depth of love and value for the other over and above the fear, which leads to acts of courage, rather than those of cowardice.
No, in spiritual terms, the only antonym of and antidote for fear is peace, not in its most common understanding in our day-to-day experiences in this world, but the supernatural peace, afforded to us only through Christ, or as He Himself described it:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraidJohn 14:27
In other words, where Christ’s peace reigns supreme, fear is vanquished and banished. Paul gives even more information about this kind of “tangnefedd” (heaven’s peace):
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ JesusPhilippians 4:7
In a way, the account of Jesus and His disciples that we find in Matthew 8, Mark 4 and Luke 8 is a preview in a temporary sense of what would become an eternal, continuing, spiritual reality in the lives of Jesus’ followers from then to the present day. Once again, we have an account of a boat at sea in very bad weather. This time, Jesus is actually in the boat with the disciples during the storm, though He is asleep and seemingly oblivious to the terror of His disciples. In great distress, they rouse Jesus in order to make Him aware of their predicament. Jesus’ response is astounding: “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace (σιωπάω – see above), be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). In this instance, Jesus’ words and presence not only drive out fear but change the circumstances that caused the fear. Jesus even challenges the fear of His disciples in this case, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). What Jesus did in this account was to deal with a particular situation at a particular time in the lives of His disciples, but it is also something that would again be significant for them in their remembrance of the event on the sea, when the Disciples are greeted by their resurrected Lord Jesus with the words “Peace be with you.”
For most of us, Easter 2022 is not one, which we would describe with the word “peace” – far from it actually. Just when we think that our world is heading toward more stability, understanding, and cooperation, we are confronted yet again with open warfare in Ukraine and ongoing conflicts occurring literally all over the globe. Peace in this world, therefore, seems to be a commodity in very short supply, but one for which we yearn and toward which we strive in hope. Because of Jesus, however, right now, we can have His peace, which can calm the internal storms, which these uncertain times can rouse in us when the waves are high in our external world and we are prone to fear for our very lives. Also because of His victory over death, sin, and the enemy, we have the promise that at the fulfilment of His Kingdom in this world with His power and might, the peace that is ours internally will reign externally and in fullness. Then:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymoreIsaiah 2:4
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’Revelation 21:3-4
So, for this Easter—one plagued with war, conflict and uncertainty seemingly all around us—my prayer for each of us is that the peace of Jesus would become a reality in our lives and reign in power, healing us of our fear and lack of faith, and giving in their place, true “Shalom”—“tangnefedd.”