Revelation 21, 1-14 & Luke 2, 25-32
In the reading from the Book of Revelation Jesus describes himself as the Alpha and the Omega. Now, he is not talking cars! No he is talking of something far more serious: life itself, eternal life. Jesus is saying in essence I have the first word, and I have the last word.
Sometimes we can rightly be critical when folk seek to speak either first or last. I have heard it suggested that it’s a good idea to think before speaking and, I am pretty sure that I may have said to a relative or two: ‘why do you always have to have the last word.’ In truth I think my mother may have said these words to me!
Yet Jesus does claim to have both the first and the last word. He, Jesus, is the author of the entirety of the Christian story. In fact he is the very point of the Christian story. So I wonder if we had to guess what we might suppose Jesus’ first and the last word to be?
I would like to suggest it is peace.
When, at the beginning of the gospel stories, Jesus sends out the disciples, he insists that ‘peace be with you,’ should be the first words they should utter when entering a community. When the resurrected Jesus encounters his apostles the first words he says are ‘peace be with you.’ Jesus first and last word is, it appears, peace.
Peace in this context doesn’t equate simply to a feeling or emotion. Peace means Shalom which means right, or righteous, relationships. Peace implies being at ease with ourselves, with God and with neighbour. It is this peace that Christians should strive for and it is for this reason that peace is frequently, in the Christian tradition, equated with justice.
In the reading from Luke’s gospel Simeon, who is a man of riper years, a good and honourable man, a man of the temple, declares that he is now ready to depart this life ‘in peace;’ in shalom.
He is able to do so because he has gazed upon the baby Jesus. He recognises that Jesus is the peace bringer but he also recognises something even more important: that access to peace, through the person of Jesus, is available to all. ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.’ Peace, shalom, right and righteous relationship is not to be narrowly defined and hoarded, but instead to be offered and shared lavishly. Jews and Greeks in biblical times had very little respect for each other, let alone liking. The idea of sharing and living well alongside each other would have been a total anathema. Becoming a peacemaker is a job of work, it requires us, just like Simeon, to gaze upon and ‘see’ Jesus, for this is the only way that we will be able to relate well to those who we believe to be just plain different or not like us.
Living peacefully alongside those who look like us, think like us, believe like us really isn’t much of a challenge. Living peacefully alongside those who look different, think differently and believe differently is.
But, one thing that seems to me to be an inescapable fact of the Christian life is that the pursuit of peace, shalom, right or righteous relationships should reside right at the heart of our faith. Peace is both the first and the last word, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown