The Holy Living column with Rev Peter Dodson

During Eucharistic worship, many congregations share 'The Peace'.
During Eucharistic worship, many congregations share 'The Peace'.

Today, April 13, is Maundy Thursday, part of this year’s Holy Week. The word ‘maundy’ is connected with “commandment”. It refers to what Jesus said at his Last Supper: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

It is Christ’s kind of self-giving love that breeds the strong, inner joy and peace which are signs of authentic Christianity: “The fruit of the spirit is ... peace.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquillity; mental calm, serenity; freedom from or cessation of war or violence; from civil disorder; from dispute or dissension between individuals or groups.” These, although important, are secular definitions.

Jesus, however, is represented as saying: “Peace is my gift to you; my own peace such as the world cannot give.” (John 14.27) Jesus speaks, for example, within the prophetic tradition of Isaiah who hears his God saying: “My covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isaiah 54.10).

There are two key words here: “covenant” and “peace”. The Old Testament contains more than 250 references to the covenant.

It is most clearly expressed in the divine language of “You will be my people; and I will be your God” (see, for example, Exodus 5.7). The keeping of that holy covenant or testament demands not less than everything from God and from Christians: God’s goodness, truth and love and theirs.

The Old Testament’s people of Israel constantly broke their covenant with God; so, today, do the Christian Church’s flawed members. Christians break the covenant in their personal and corporate prayer and worship, in the study of Holy Scripture and other holy writings, as well as in Christian fellowship, witness and mission.

Break the covenant, even through sheer apathy, and the peace of which Jesus speaks, becomes eroded.

During Eucharistic worship, many congregations share “The Peace”. I find it strange when Christians refuse to do so.

Christians never fully grasp the peace of Christ because it “passes all understanding”.

Christians can only scratch the surface.

A hymn says, “Peace perfect peace, in this dark world of sin.” This includes the need for peace within each Christian’s own sinful darkness. Sin, or the failure to love sacrificially, militates against, and undermines, the acceptance of Christ’s freely offered peace.

Peace sharing has its roots deep within Judaism, especially in the greeting of others with the word “Shalom”.

This greeting is primarily about strong religious covenant relationships with God and with God’s people. “Shalom” or “The peace of the Lord be always with you”, expresses a profound sharing in God’s desire that the other person’s life be built on the solid foundation of faith in God.

This includes the desire that all human relationships may be strong and harmonious. For Christians, the rock-foundation is Jesus Christ himself.

He is the sure foundation. He is the wisdom, love and power of God, enabling his devoted followers to live in harmonious relationship with him, other people, the world and all creation. The fruit of the Holy Spirit, working in human minds, hearts and wills, is peace. “My covenant of peace shall not be removed”.

Such language, etched into human nature, becomes the driving power of all truly loving compassion. Devout Christians inevitably agonise over a world that seems hell-bent on self-destruction. It will remain in its current state of terrifying restlessness, until it finds its peace in a true vision of Christ and of Christ-like humanity.