16 April 2024, The Tablet

Peace – all that has been won for us by Christ’s passion and resurrection


On each occasion that Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, his greeting is the same: “Peace be with you.” And when he takes leave of them at his Ascension, he greets them in the same way. This should come as no surprise: Jesus had reassured his fearful followers that the outcome of all that was to take place in Jerusalem, would be peace, a peace that nothing and no one could take from them. “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me”, he said.

In the liturgy of the Mass, “peace” is spoken of no less than seven times between the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer and the reception of Holy Communion. Again, in the words of absolution during the Sacrament of Confession, the priest prays that God will grant us “pardon and peace”.

In this one word – peace – is summed up all that has been won for us by Christ’s passion and resurrection. Little wonder that the very earliest surviving Christian sarcophagi bear the simple inscription: Pax, peace.

Peace is integral to happiness and human flourishing, whatever turbulence there may be on the surface of our lives, and peace within us is the prerequisite of peace around us. St Ignatius of Loyola (1491- 1556) suffered frequent bouts of what we would now call depression, but he was certain that in this life the hallmark of lasting happiness and well-founded hope is imperturbable peace.

The only true peace, the only peace which neither the world nor anybody in the world can either give us or take from us, is Christ’s own peace. “Peace, I leave you, my peace I give you,” he said to the disciples, words repeated at every Mass before Holy Communion. The reason why no one else can either give us this peace or take it from us is that Christ himself is our peace, and he is with us always, “even to the close of the age”.

The enemy of our inner peace is our natural dread of death. But if Christ has risen, we no longer live “in the shadow of death”. As John Donne (1572-1631) has it in Holy Sonner X:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death is already behind us, and even now we experience seminally the new life of the resurrection in every act of selfless kindness, every act of forgiveness from the heart, every act of generosity: in every movement of genuine love, in other words.

So when the time for our physical death comes, we can look on the Crucified and Risen Christ with confidence, and readily go with him, not into “death’s dateless night”, but into endless day. As St Bede the Venerable (d. 735) has it:

“Christ is that bright morning star, who, when the light of this world fails, brings his saints to the joy of eternal life, and to the light of everlasting day.”

Christ’s peace suffuses our very existence and his resurrection imbues everything with a value and worth that surpasses all understanding and estimation. Because our lives are, as St Paul says, “hid with Christ in God”, nothing is wasted or without meaning.

The opposite of inner peace is anxiety, and much of our lives are spent, consciously or unconsciously, assuaging anxieties of various kinds, about the past or the future, about our possessions (or lack of them), about our failings, failures, and reputation, about our health, and a thousand other things. Anxiety is no respecter of age, ability, status, or birth.

It is no coincidence that one of the most ancient prayers in the Roman Liturgy, coming just before the reception of Holy Communion, asks God “to protect us from all anxiety” (ab omne perturbatione). You can see why: just as every Christian belief is rooted in God’s revelation of his unfailing love for us, so every failure to love God, others, or ourselves – what we call “sin” – is rooted ultimately in our deep existential angst about whether it is true that we are unconditionally loved and held safe in God’s hands.

Again, it is no coincidence that the longest passage in the Sermon on the Mount tells us explicitly: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you are to wear … seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.”

If we truly are in the hands of a Creator whose doting, fatherly love has been proven beyond all possible doubt, whose Word made flesh has passed through death into everlasting life and will take us with him, we need no longer expend precious energy and time on anxiously fretting about either the past or the future, about either hoarding or losing our possessions, about winning every argument or about anything else under the sun.

St Paul is unequivocal: “Have no anxiety about anything, but with prayer and supplication, make your needs [all of them] known to God.”

What do you think?


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