Jesus extends peace to us at every moment.
If that is true, then why don’t we followers of Jesus necessarily have peace? As believers, I think we have two ways to approach the problem. We can stand before God asking: “Why don’t you give ME peace? Why don’t you take away these problems? Why God, if you’re all powerful and you love me, like they’re always saying at church, why don’t you fix these things that make me anxious and troubled?”
That’s not a bad prayer. No prayer is a bad prayer. Even a prayer of anger at God is at least TALKING to God, giving God the chance to get into our lives. This prayer is an opening, an entryway. When God gets in it, we learn that our ideas of God as magician or problem solver, that God is made in our own image (and not the other way around), that he’s something like a genie in a bottle are all forms of idolatry. We let the genie out to serve us when it’s convenient, bottle up the genie the rest of the time. Whatever Jesus meant when he said “Ask and you shall receive,” this is not it.
When we start to get a glimmer of that truth, or when we wear ourselves out asking without attending at all to God’s will, then the second approach to the problem of peace starts to infiltrate our prayer. “Why don’t I get out of the way of the peace you long to give me, O God? Help me to stop focusing on life’s difficult circumstances. Help me stop feeding feelings of resentment and unforgiveness that keep me and others bound. Help me give no credence to thoughts which makes me anxious and disturbed. Help me to accept the peace beyond understanding offered by Christ, who died that I might live.
A very different kind of prayer, yes? It is a prayer of CONFIDENCE in God. We talk a lot in church about the importance of having faith, and most of us would say we believe. We talk very little about the critical importance of confidence in God – of believing God has our best interest at heart, that peace is possible, that God can redeem even the most intractable messes, the most desperate of circumstances, because God already did it in Christ. What circumstance could better embody defeat than the crucifixion, yet we believe God redeems even this. That is what it means to be a resurrection people.
Which brings us to Thomas, the doubting apostle. You’ve got to feel for Thomas up there in heaven, listening to all of us say “doubting Thomas.” He’s probably saying – hey, pay attention – I believed in the end! What a gift you are to us, St. Thomas. You showed us that doubt is an integral part of the life of faith. Wanting evidence is OK. How does Thomas come to be able to say: “My LORD and my GOD?” What evidence convinces him? The wounds of Christ. God could have erased these marks of death and defeat, but didn’t. Christ isn’t gloried in spite of his wounds, but Christ is glorified because of them.
Christ’s wounds become the entry point, for Thomas, and for us. In renaissance and baroque paintings Thomas is shown peering into the side of Christ, inches from his body, like a scientist or a doctor. That’s a symbol of how intimate we can be with the suffering of Christ. This is a great mystery. We each experience it in our own way, and that experience very often involves our own wounds. However it happens, entering into Christ’s sufferings becomes the proof that transforms our hearts. Because our hearts too often ARE the locked room where we cower in fear.
When Christ comes in, Christ brings peace, and with that peace, purpose. Christ says, “Peace be with you, as God sent me, so I send YOU.” This is not an order from Christ, it’s the result of the peace Christ gives. Once we know this peace, all things become possible, even the extraordinary LOVE of the early Christian community described in Acts. Touched by Christ’s peace, we are changed, and others see it. Being sent by God is simply to take the peace beyond all understanding out where others can see it. It’s that simple.
A house can’t be built in a day, neither can a mansion of inner peace be built within our souls in a fleeting instant. This is a life work, and it’s done not by us but by the divine architect. Our call is to unlock our hearts, take down the barriers, clear the land of the debris of sin, and trust that a magnificent mansion will rise from the rubble of our wounded lives, just as it did from Christ’s.