It’s good to remember, even before we begin, what he had to say when it was all over. With the wounds still gaping in his hands, feet, and side – a dead man walking into a room full of confusion, shame, and grief – he still had the nerve to say it: Stop worrying. Stop hiding. Stop locking your doors. Peace be with you.
I give him credit for guts if not for originality.
The most unbelievable part of this story isn’t that he, being God, had no need of remaining dead; it’s that he, being God, thought we might actually take him up on the offer of living free from fear. Peace be with us? In this mess? Even if… Even when… Are you serious?
Holy Week is as good a time as any to be honest about our fears and every time I read the news it seems we’re about to find out what happens if and how we will react when. If our deepest fears are realized, when all is lost, will peace be with us? Don’t hold your breath.
There was reason to fear. Of that much I was sure. I had plenty of evidence. Like the time my older brother suddenly slammed my head against the videogame console in an arcade in Vegas. He had lost and I had laughed. The karma was instantaneous, disproportionate, and painful. The initial shock and the dizzying rush of blood to my forehead was followed immediately by the tense shame of tears in public – another occasion to practice the old familiar resistance. I held my head, grit my teeth and turned away…or inward…or down. Something trying to escape was held back. And I’ve held it now for a long time. With reason. With fear.
Years later, in high school, I was usually the first one home and was accustomed to finding the house empty. The fear crept into my gut as I noticed the unlocked front door, the dirty laundry thrown around the living room, the realization that someone had been in our house while we were off thinking all was normal. They had used the laundry baskets to gather and sort our stuff before making off with what they wanted. What they left behind was evidence that even a place called home could be a place of violation, that even an empty house could be full of fear.
Nowadays the reasons to fear arrive hourly. I carry them around in my pocket – notifications just popping up all day long. A friend confronting addiction. A father fighting cancer. A cousin losing someone too young. Many are afraid of racism; others of responsibility. Refugees flee their home turned war zone while everyone else militarizes their own. All with reason. All with fear.
He had been fond of saying be not afraid – in stormy seas, in angry crowds. We didn’t listen. He gave up. Upon seeing the evidence, perhaps, he came to understand that we might have reason to fear. He’d seen it. He’d suffered it. He bore the wounds — beaten and scarred, just like the rest of us. He’d seen the way we lose control in crowds, the way reasonable people give in to their lower passions. He’d seen the way we reject responsibility, betraying the ones we claim to love in dark corners and denial. He felt the sick fear of abandonment. He’d seen the concerned few watching it all from a safe distance. Then, in a breath, he gave up.
My younger sister went through a stage as an infant where she would scream so much that she would stop breathing and pass out, exhausted and blue in the face. It was hard to watch but we were all glad for an end to the noise; also glad when she started breathing again, when her soft body would carry on the essential functions that her fears and frustrations had momentarily put an end to. Her flesh knew something that her mind could not – peace and surrender. Her breath gave her something that we could not – hope and resurrection.
After it was all over he didn’t ask us not to fear, but he insisted on peace. Be not afraid? Ok, maybe not. But live not in terror, act not in hatred, remain not in fear. If you can, let it pass. On the other side of passion is peace.
Perhaps there’s no way around the fear – the reasons for it will keep coming – but there’s no reason to participate in the terror. No reason to hold it within you. The scriptures say he breathed on them – Peace be with you – and that they received his Spirit.
Will peace be with us? Don’t hold your breath.
It’s good to remember, even before we begin, how his fear became his freedom, how his passion became his peace. Let it be so with each of us. Let our failures free us from fear and let this passionate love turn our terror into tenderness. And let us remember what he had to say when it was all over – Peace be with you – even if, even when.
The cover image, by Flickr user Thomas Berg can be found here.