Anxiety. I’m sure you remember a time or two in your own lives when you were anxious and scared. When you found it difficult to gather yourself because of events in your life.
When my daughter Zoe was in middle school and I was working at the newspaper in Sarasota FL, her school nurse called me on the phone.
She said, “Zoe has a massive headache and has lost the sight in her left eye. You need to pick her up and bring her to the ER.”
I jumped up from my desk, and—there’s no other word for it—I freaked out. I ran into my boss’s office and said, “There’s something wrong with Zoe. I have to go.”
I hurried to the book editor’s desk—she was a friend of mine from church whose daughter was in my youth group—and quickly told what had happened, asked for prayers through the lump in my throat. She saw my eyes fill and my hands shake, and grabbed her purse. “You’re in no shape to drive. I’ll take you.”
On the way to the school I tried to pull myself together. I tried to breathe. My mind was relentlessly playing and replaying worse case scenarios in my head. I couldn’t think. I felt the shadow part of my soul gaining ground. I asked God to send light into my darkness.
I’m sure the disciples were battling their darknesses too. They were frightened, their minds playing and replaying worst case scenarios in their heads of what could happen now that Jesus was dead– each one trying not to let the other disciples see just how anxious they were. Each one caught in the cycle of negativity.
And Jesus suddenly arrives in their midst. He says: “Peace be with you.” Then he says it again. And then he says it a third time. The word which our English translates as “peace” is from the Hebrew: Shalom.
When we think of the definition of ‘peace’ we often think of the absence of war—whether that’s nationally, internationally, or even between families or groups of people.
Or maybe we mean the absence of noise, like when we tell our kids: “Can I get a little peace and quiet around here?”
But Shalom, the peace Christ speaks of, is a little different.
- It means: To make amends
- To make good
- To be (or to make) peace
According to Hebrew tradition, the noun form always points to being in a state of wholeness or completeness. It can mean peace, as in harmony–but it does so in the sense that without peace, there can be no completion, no wholeness… as a nation, as a group, or as a person. Wholeness, completeness.
So Jesus says, “Shalom be with you.”
Perhaps Jesus is telling the disciples that he has returned, he is risen, he is with them— and they can once again be whole, complete.
Peace be with you. Shalom be with you. Breathe, center yourself, know that I am here, I will always be with you– and become whole again.
Perhaps he is telling them that that peace, that wholeness, that completeness is within them—in the part of themselves where he is in them, and they in him, and all in God.
Zoe turned out to be fine. It was a migraine, and not the worst things I imagined.
Long after that day, I asked God why I am still occasionally plagued with anxious thoughts during times of crisis. I want God to make me whole, to take away all my anxious, dark thoughts. God never does that.
God continues to show us our shadow, and God continues to show us our wonder. And God blesses them both. We know that everything is from God, and God is slowly helping us transform into a new creation. Make us whole. Give us SHALOM.
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights,
let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe,
working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil,
a power that is able to make a way out of no way
and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Jesus’ first word to the disciples after he was resurrected was Shalom. “May God transform you to wholeness.”
He wanted it for the 12, who were locked in a room and even more—locked in fear. And he wants it for us. When anxiety tries to take the wheel and drive that train and make us think things will never be any better remember: Shalom. Wholeness.
May you be whole in God. Amen.