According to St Luke and St John, after Jesus rose from the dead, the first thing Jesus said when He appeared to the assembled apostles was: “Peace be with you.” What did He mean by this? Was He just trying to say, “Do not be afraid, everything is all right now”? Perhaps, since immediately before this greeting (in John’s Gospel), it is noted that the disciples were hiding behind closed doors, “for fear of the Jews,” but this does not nearly express the full meaning of his words.
I recently read the resurrection accounts from the Gospel of John, and in prayer I asked the Lord to help me understand just what his “peace” is, and also that, whatever it is, He infuse it directly into my heart and soul, henceforth and forever!
The Gospels were written in Greek, but Jesus didn’t speak Greek to his disciples. So He would have greeted them with the Aramaic Shalama (equivalent to the more well-known Hebrew Shalom). The term can be used as a mere greeting, but it became a greeting only because it is a wish for an abundance of blessings. In Jesus’ case, it was not merely a wish, even for blessings, because He has the power to communicate what He says. He doesn’t wish peace, He gives it.
Shalom is a rich term which means more than peace as absence of war or inner turmoil. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from a root verb meaning to be complete, perfect and full. So it is a kind of fullness of life, both materially and spiritually, in relations with God and man, that is expressed here.
This peace is the shalom of God, which St Paul says “passes all understanding” and “will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Therefore it is a supernatural peace, a spiritual completeness, an abundance of grace, an interior rest (as when Jesus says, “Come to Me… I will give you rest… you will find rest for your souls”; Mt. 11:28-29). That is why Jesus, in his “farewell discourse,” said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you…” (Jn. 14:27). His peace is much more profound, healing, strengthening, and lasting than anything the world can offer.
According to St John, when Jesus first appeared to his gathered disciples, He said, “Peace be with you,” and He showed them his hands and feet, still bearing the wounds of his sacrifice. Recognizing that it was truly their Lord and Master risen from the dead, the disciples rejoiced. So with this “Peace be with you,” Jesus communicated to them the shalom of God, and the fruit of it was joy.
Right after that, St John tells us: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.'” What is the meaning of this second shalom? It does in fact seem to have a different character than the first, since it is linked to the Holy Spirit in the context of apostolic mission and priestly ministry. Once the disciples found “rest for their souls” in the presence of the Risen Lord, He communicated to them a new dimension of the shalom of God.
The whole passage reads: “Jesus said to them again: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (Jn. 20:21-23). The word “apostle” means “one who is sent,” so the peace that Jesus now communicates to them will sustain them in their apostolic labors. For their particular ministry, one that belongs only to those specifically called and ordained, Jesus grants them a sort of private Pentecost, a charism of the Holy Spirit not given to the larger group of disciples, both men and women, on the day of the public Pentecost. Jesus here gives the apostles the grace and authority in the Holy Spirit to forgive or retain sins. This is part of what it means to be sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by the Father into this world. Sent by the Father, the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins (see Mt. 9:6). Sent by Jesus, the Apostles received the same authority. This ministry has been an integral element of the sacramental life and ministry of the Church from that day until the present.
Let open our hearts to the shalom of God, given to us by Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our souls will find rest and completeness and joy. We will enter into the rich abundance of divine grace and will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We will learn trust and patience, we will have courage and endurance, for all the fullness of God will be made available to us (Eph. 3:19). For some it will also mean being sent, being ordained to the priestly and sacramental ministry, or sent on other missions in the name of the Lord. For all it will mean a deeper life in Christ, and a greater freedom from the many things that seem to rob us of peace in our troubled times and perhaps in our own anxiety-ridden souls. Even if we are “hiding in fear” as were the first apostles, Jesus will come to us, passing through the locked doors of our hearts, saying, “Peace be with you.” Let us welcome Him, trusting that He, as the Risen Lord, can and will make all things new, and let us rejoice!