“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Jesus offers these words to his friends on his last night with him. Their evening together began with Jesus, taking the feet of his disciples into his hands, pouring water over each one and scrubbing them clean, then with a towel massaging them dry. As they ate their last supper, Jesus tells them that he loves them, that he will miss them, that he will always be with them, in their hearts, in their love, in their lives together, through the Holy Spirit, the divine comforter, the divine advocate, the presence of God.
From chapter after chapter, from John 13 through 17, Jesus gushes about his love. His heart can’t hold all of his feelings. He floods the room with his words, thoughts rushing through his mind. He repeats himself—“I have loved you,” he says these words three times, word for word, a confession of love. On this last night with his friends, Jesus is a mess of emotions.
“My peace I give to you,” he tells them, as they await tragedy. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Violence lurks in the night. But there, in that room, they are fortified with God’s peace.
As Jesus speaks these words of comfort, his friend, the beloved disciple, rests his head on Jesus’ chest. It’s a detail mentioned in the previous passage. “One of his disciples,” it says, “the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining on his bosom.” The storyteller repeats this part of the scene a couple verses later, perhaps because he thought we might overlook this moment, so we read again that the same disciple, as it says, was “leaning on the breast of Jesus” (13:23, 25). Translators, perhaps embarrassed by the intimacy, delete that part of the scene, to shield us from the scandal of it all—like a parent, reaching a hand to cover our eyes when we were children, to block from our sight unseemly images flashing across the TV screen.
This is an intimate scene, these are heartfelt words. This is a clandestine gathering. The authorities are in pursuit. Jesus and his friends huddle together, in hiding, comforted with each other’s presence, as they eat bread and drink wine. This night will be their last.
But he promises them the Holy Spirit who he calls the Paraclete, a word that refers to someone who appears on another’s behalf (BDAG). The Holy Spirit will be a paraclete, reminding them of Jesus, conjuring Jesus, who in some mysterious sense will re-present his body to them, his body among them, his life within their lives, a life of peace, for us, for all of us here.
This world troubles our hearts, this topsy-turvy life. We’ve all got our private worries we keep close, that gnaw at us, anxieties that hound our minds, concerns that won’t go away: wounded relationships, difficulties without resolution, unfulfilled dreams—the stuff that sneaks up on us when we thought we were doing just fine, minding our own business, doing what we need to do, then out of nowhere we’re reminded of a troubling situation, a face flashes through our head, a burdensome memory, an uncontrollable fear.
We’ve got this annoying tendency, inside of our minds, to sabotage ourselves, to produce voices that sound true but are lies, about us, about our lives, about the world. We’ve got some kind of nervous energy built into our psychology that tends toward self-sabotage, toward self-deception, to convince us that we are always messing up, that there’s something wrong with us, that we aren’t alright, that we aren’t going to be ok, that life is impossible, that the world is impossible, that we don’t know how to survive any of this. We say this to ourselves, in the jumble of our thoughts about ourselves.
I know I do this to myself. That’s why these words of Jesus from our passage today sound so hopeful: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Part of me wants to respond to Jesus by pointing out that it’s not so easy—that my heart gets troubled whether I like it or not, there are fears beyond my control. It seems like a lot to put it on me, to make it my responsibility to prevent my own troubles. That’s just another way to set me up for failure, for Jesus to feed the vicious cycles going on in my mind, because now I have to blame myself for my inability to guard my heart from troubles.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “Do not let them be afraid.” I wish I had that kind of power over my troubles, that kind of self-control over my fears.
The hope here, in this story, is the scene in John’s Gospel: Jesus around the table with friends, eating and drinking, sharing burdens that no one should carry alone—that there is a community, that there are a people who tell us the truth, the truth about ourselves, to remind us of what we forget, that we are loved, that we are held by God’s love, that God has drawn us close, that God will never let us go.
This doesn’t mean that the world is fixed all of a sudden, that the disciples can carry on with their lives as if nothing will happen as if Good Friday doesn’t follow Holy Thursday, as if the cross is a fiction of the imagination. The world is terrible. Violence has been written into the fabric of things. That’s the way it has always been.
But the good news is that we live by miracles, that Jesus has promised us miracles—the miracle of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the advocate, and that’s what we do here, reminding each other of God’s love as we care for one another. You are the miracle of God.