The horrible war in Ukraine has woken many from a lengthy slumber, in which they dreamed that European peace would never end and that before long not just Europe but the whole world would live in harmony. But we need not look to faraway places to note how peace is disturbed. North Americans, too, are divided. Our own families—yes, our own hearts—are out of sync, disjointed, at odds. Peace does not seem to be real.
Peace definitely did not seem real for the disciples the evening after Christ's Resurrection. As the frightful darkness of night settled upon them, they locked the doors, sheltering inside to try to keep safe from those who might hurt them. Fear gripped their hearts as an uncertain world made them anxious, on the lookout for danger. Evening, locked doors, fear of the Jews (John 20:19)—all said one and the same thing: Peace is not real. Real are the threats, the discord, the danger.
It was not always like that. When God first formed man of the dust of the ground, peace was real, for God himself breathed (enephysēsen) the breath of life into Adam's nostrils (Gen. 2:7). When God breathes his breath or his Spirit, paradisal peace prevails, and new life springs up. We are not surprised, therefore, that God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool (ruakh) of the day—the wind, breath, or spirit of the day (3:8). Evenings were peaceful and good.
Peace was real in paradise because the Spirit was there, and reality is created by the powerful work of the Spirit of life. The Psalmist sings: “When thou lettest thy breath go forth they are made; and thou renewest the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30). The Spirit of God is the Spirit of life, of reality, and of peace. Apart from the Spirit of God nothing is real. Apart from the cool of the day—the refreshing presence of the Spirit of God—nothing is real. It is only the self-diffusing peace of God that gives reality to all that exists. God’s Spirit gives us what really is real—to on ontōs, to use Plato’s words. It is the zest of new life, the harmony of peace.
Too often, we cave to the Manichean temptation and tell ourselves that good and evil—division and peace, hatred and love, destruction and renewal, death and life—are equally real. On bad days, fearfully huddled in darkness behind our locked doors, our nihilistic despair tells us that peace is an illusion; what is really real is division and death.
But Paradise holds out to us a far more compelling reality. When God creates, he makes out of nothing things that are real. He breathes his Spirit into them. And that breath creates life, love, peace, and nothing but goodness, participating in a heavenly reality that really is real.
Nothing tells us more powerfully what’s real than Christ's resurrection. For on the first day of the week, Jesus takes us back into Paradise. He moves through locked doors and stands in our midst (John 20:19). He shatters our fears and gives us his peace. “Peace be unto you,” he tells us, again and again. He replaces our dread with a gladness that only his Spirit can bring.
Jesus breathes (enephysēsen) his Spirit upon the apostles just as he once breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam. Two sayings of Jesus underscore the reality of the Spirit, of Easter, of Paradise. The first saying is this: “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (20:21). Let’s call this the reality of mission. The Father sends Jesus; Jesus sends the disciples. Just as Jesus was on a mission, so now the disciples are on a mission. It is a mission that grounds us in the eternal life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing is more real than the reality of the mission of God.
Second, Jesus goes on to say, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (20:23). Let’s call this the reality of power. When the church speaks words, things actually happen. Sins are remitted; they are retained. How the disciples must have been awed by the reality of the power of words. The church’s words are existential words; they are words of being, of truth, and of power. Nothing is more real than the reality of the power of God.
These two things, the reality of mission and the reality of power, make Easter peace real. In truth, they are not two separate realities, but one and the same. To be part of the mission of God, we need the power of God. And we receive the power of God only when we are taken up into the mission of God. The two are united by Jesus’s breathing of the Spirit of God.
Here on earth, we may be tempted to believe the lie that the only reality is division and hatred, destruction and death. But the resurrection of Jesus puts us back in the Garden of Eden. Here, in the Paradise of Easter, the really-real is finally given to us. “Peace be unto you,” Jesus says to us. Peace is real, for God is real.
Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
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