The Promise Continues

3rd Sunday of Easter (B) – April 19, 2021

St. Mary – Derby, KS

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

A Peace We Cannot Construct, but Never Cease to Long For

Right after Easter is a great time for priests, because it’s when everything finally calms down for a second and you can just catch your breath. Advent and Christmas and New Year’s are hectic, and before you have a chance to recover from those, Lent hits you right between the eyes, and then Holy Week (or as we call it, “Holy Hell Week”) and then Easter. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an exhausting and challenging time, but it’s also full of grace and blessings and growth. God’s work was palpable. It was amazing. But you’re tired. I mean, I don’t think I’m the only person that has gone through a busy time in life and just felt a little tired, a little worn down.

But the whole time I had my retreat to look forward to. A day after Easter I was hopping on a plane for retreat and a break. So I was working hard, living life intensely, but I also knew that a break was coming, peace was on the horizon.

And oh what a peace it was! A day after Easter I went on retreat. And it was a very prayerful retreat, about forty priests gathered for a week to pray together, to share their experiences. But as Fr. Joe has told just about everyone he’s talked to, yeah, the location of this retreat center was in West Palm Beach, Florida. I know! The sacrifices I have to make astound even me!

And when you’re flying to West Palm Beach, everyone (with the exception of a very few individuals who are going there to visit their in-laws)—everyone going there is stoked out of their mind. West Palm Beach! Ah, have you been there? Mama mia! Ah! I love Palm Beach. Finally, getting away from it all, finally going somewhere for a little R&R, a little rest, a little peace. The buzz is palpable.

And you get there and some people are living out their wildest fantasies: renting a luxury car for the week, eating great food for the week, endless sunshine, spending it with the person or the people they actually love—again, we already excepted those people visiting in-laws—and just having an overall paradisiacal experience. “If this were heaven, I hope I die tomorrow!”

But it’s fleeting. As amazing as it is, it doesn’t solve anything. It didn’t solve anything for me. The peace of being away from it all, in West Palm Beach—pretty soon the weather being seventy-five and sunny every day isn’t that great. The food is great, but eventually it’s just food. The ocean is incredible, but even that can get annoying because it’s salty and the beach just leaves sand everywhere. Living out of a suitcase isn’t fun. And even if it were perfect, you know that reality, your real life, is looming on the horizon. All of the problems in your life, in your heart, or back home didn’t magically disappear because you went to West Palm Beach. And you know that even if you stayed in West Palm Beach, these things would eventually find their way to you.

Vacations are good and important. But they don’t fix everything. The “peace” that vacations can give to us, it’s fleeting. And if it’s fleeting, it’s not real “peace.”

It’s not just retreat or vacations, it’s everything. Relationships can give us a sense of peace and newness: you fall in love, everything is great. But one, five, ten years into the relationship, and it’s not the same. Money is nice to have. New stuff, new cars or houses or clothes or shoes can be great. Good financial management and financial security can be a great comfort—but that doesn’t seem to save us from a whole slew of other anxieties and worries and problems in our life.

Kinda depressing, when you think about it. Even if everything were great, everything in life was in order, you didn’t want for anything, you had a nice house and family and everything—that doesn’t solve the need we feel for happiness, for constant newness, for true and lasting peace. We’re restless. Even if we can give ourselves everything, one thing after another, day after day, year after year—even up until the day we die…there is something missing. This peace we are looking for always evades us. There is this need for wholeness, for completeness—and we can’t seem to get it. This peace always evades us. Always. And yet, we won’t stop expecting it or wanting it.

Shalom

This absence of peace, this constant longing we have for wholeness and completeness, for newness, for constant newness—this is what the Tradition calls the “condition of sin.” We’re stuck in this position of never being able to give ourselves everything we want or need. And being the great humans we are, we spend a lot of our life in denial about this, pretending that this isn’t really the case. And it’s not that vacation or relationships or money are “sinful.” But we start to think that we can provide for ourselves, that the peace and wholeness and newness we long for, we can get it ourselves. And the more we try these methods, the more we long for wholeness and newness and completeness. It’s like quicksand: the more we struggle, the worse it gets.

This “condition of sin” is the opposite of what the Tradition calls “peace.” And like I’ve told you before, “peace” is not just the absence of war or conflict, no. “Peace” is that one Hebrew word you know: Shalom. And shalom is used to describe something that is very complex that is in a state of wholeness or completeness; when something is incomplete, there is a lack of shalom. The condition of sin fools us into thinking that we can bring this shalom on our own terms, by our own efforts. But again, we can’t. We know that. Everyone got mad at me on Easter when I said, “Everything is amazing, but nobody is happy.” But it’s true, at least for a lot of us. We can have everything: vacations, and houses, and relationships, and money and whatever—but still feel like we’re missing something. We can’t give ourselves shalom.

“Peace be with you.”

The prophets spoke of a day when God would send someone to restore shalom. The Prophet Isaiah especially! He spoke of one that would bring freedom from this yoke that holds us captive,  this condition of sin; one that would bring shalom. Isaiah “named him…Prince of Peace. And his reign is…forever peaceful,” there will be no end of peace (Isaiah 9:5-6). Isaiah said that this person would be both Messiah (the anointed, the Christ) and Lord. On the day of his birth, what did the angels cry out about this Jesus? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” What did the angel announce? “Today, a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Go to our scene today. Jesus arrives, risen from the dead, “the firstborn from the dead” as St. Paul will say. Jesus is reborn and once again the proclamation is the same: Peace. Peace is what the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ is going to bring. And the promise remains.

Repent and Receive This Peace

So how? How do we get this peace? How can we finally get out of this condition of sin, being stuck in this constant struggle to try to give ourselves this peace? Repentance. The disciples are told to go and preach repentance. Our first reading, that is precisely what they are doing (Acts 3:19). But like I’ve told you before, “repent” doesn’t mean, “Stop sinning and be a Christian.” “Repent” means something more like, “Turn around. Turn your mind and heart away from goals you have defined for yourself and turn them back to the one true God.” For the people of Jesus’ time, this would very concretely have meant turning away from the social and political agendas which were driving Israel into unrest, and violence, and craziness. It would have meant calling these people to turn back to a true loyalty to the Lord, to the one true God, instead of the power-politics they were engaged in. That’s “repenting.”

For us, that means something like, “Stop thinking your vacation or your relationships or your money or your politics or whatever is going to bring you release from this condition of sin, from your lack of wholeness and completeness—stop thinking you can provide this true peace for yourself. And instead, turn toward this Jesus, this Jesus who not even death can overcome, this Jesus who is the prince of peace.” This is what the disciples are witness to: this man is risen from the dead. And his rising from the dead has changed everything, has given us hope, has given us a promise of true peace. And if what they say is true, if this man has risen from the dead—there is finally hope for that something which can give us everlasting peace, now and in the age to come.

The more we are in tune with this constant longing for peace, true peace, the more attentive we become to the announcement made during this Easter season: something new has finally happened, something that promises the newness and wholeness and completeness that not even West Palm Beach can provide. Peace is promised to us.

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