The summer of 2004, I was a small group leader at Montreat Youth Conferences. It seemed the right time to follow through on a long-percolating plan: I would get a tattoo. I was the ripe, wise age of 22, and upon getting said tattoo on the inside of my left wrist, I called my parents to share the news: "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Sooo – I got a tattoo. But don’t worry! It is in white so you can’t really see it AND it says "shalom" – you know, like peace in Hebrew. Peace like of peace of Jesus Christ so you can’t really get mad at me, right?" They didn’t get mad and instead, giggled a bit because really, what can you say to that?
I convinced myself the tattoo would be a daily reminder of Christ’s peace – a peace I knew but needed, still. For a while, it was a reminder. But now – twelve years later – I admit: it isn’t. There it is, inked into my skin, and yet, the concept of peace escapes me effortlessly. When I’m chasing my dear two year old or I’m answering emails or I’m back in line at Target for the second time that day because I forgot the dog food – peace feels like a distant past. I’ve long given up the practice of looking at my wrist and praying. Now, I wear a watch that almost hides the word completely. There, still – but hidden. Hidden and forgotten.
When we meet Jesus this morning, he speaks with desire and sadness as he sees the city of Jerusalem – the city whose name means "city of peace." Remember the story with me:
It was the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus came to the Mount of Olives. Sent his disciples to get a young donkey. They got it; he rode it. In Luke’s version, the people placed their cloaks on the ground to welcome this servant king – no palms, just cloaks. The text says it was a loud crowd, praising God – peace in heaven, glory in the highest heaven! At this pronouncement of the Blessed One, the Pharisees say – tell your people to stop it. Stop shouting, stop praising. Jesus says: I can’t. If they’re silent, the stones will shout.
Then, the story turns as Jesus himself turns. I imagine him rounding the bend, the road beautifully decorated with cloaks of followers and of the hopeful. He knows what’s coming: the city where he’d meet his death and all the betrayal and denial and violence that came with such condemnation. I imagine it came without provocation – the tears, the utterance. Jesus begins to weep, saying, If you – even you – had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
There. But hidden.
There all along, really.
To hold on to this story of Jesus’ Jerusalem entry and plea means we also hold on to the first part of the story – the first, first part way back in the beginning of Luke’s gospel.
When the disciples on the road to Jerusalem shouted "peace in heaven! Glory in the highest heaven!", there’s was simply an inverse echo of a praise sung long ago. You remember, right? There were shepherds keeping watch and an angel who came with good news of great joy: a Savior is born! The multitude of heavenly hosts comes and says: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
Peace on earth, the heavens sing at Christ’s birth. And in the shadow of his death, earth shouts peace in heaven.
Luke frames his gospel that we might know Christ is the Prince of Peace, ushered into a time and place where torment and terror reigned. Peace, heaven calls out to earth and Jesus’ life unfolds – a life of:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
A life of embodying a deep shalom, a peace that only heaven can send down to earth. A peace that comes from the divinity of Christ. A peace that tells the whole story – the full story – of being with one another in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health. A peace that doesn’t come cheaply or in a peace sign emblazoned on a tie-dye shirt or in a packaged, easy-to-digest way. A peace – I’m afraid – that earth cannot seem to find in the years of Jesus’ life.
At the end of his Gospel, Luke closes his narrative loop – closes up the chance for earth to heed heaven’s call. He records the voices of the most earthly folks he can find – of disciples called from lives of sin and of the yet-to-be disciples wondering if they might find some hint of salvation in this teacher. The parade watchers shout: peace in heaven. Peace in heaven. Not here, their words admit – peace must come from some place other than here.
I wonder if the crowd recalled Jesus’ words earlier in Luke – words of lament for a peace-filled way. I wonder if the crowd felt the grief Jesus embodied while the joyful shouted. It wasn’t long ago, you see, when Jesus said these words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! What deep sadness. All his life – framed by these calls for peace – Jesus tried and tried to gather up the people, to tell them the Good News, and yet – and yet – it was there, it seems, there but hidden from their eyes.
What would peace look like here on earth? I’m not certain I know. The list of the things not made for peace is ceaseless: war, hatred, bigotry, violence, oppression, cancer, deceit, greed, selfishness. So ceaseless that the un-peace creeps into our lives at every opportunity.
And so here we live: stuck in a perpetually painful math equation to try and find this seemingly hidden peace: if ________, then ________. If I get a new job, then I’ll be happy. If we had more money, then we’d be less stressed. If my mom gets sick, then she’ll have to move in with us. If so and so wins the election, then the country is doomed. To even begin to consider peace on earth, our whole existence would demand a revision. Or, perhaps, our lives would simply need to be full of vision.
My friend Anna, a pastor at First Presbyterian Raleigh, offered this helpful insight: We’re living in a way that pursues peace when it’s already offered. We pursue a peace that appears far off, distant, unattainable, wholly not ours but in reality – peace is here. Unhidden. Unbidden. Ours – ours if we are willing, Jesus says. Ours if we are willing to engage in the full life of Christ.
In the 1800s, my great grandfather Henry Lewis escaped an abusive home in Wales by stowing away on a ship headed to America. He came, went to seminary, met a girl, preached in the midwest, built a family. He had three children: daughter Enid, then my grandfather Henry, and soon after a son named Robin.
Enid, my Poppa Henry, and Robin are now 95, 89, and 88. Enid and Robin are in their last months here on earth. Sensing that soon, the Lewis siblings will be one rather than three, they gathered themselves together one last time. In the fall, my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jeff accompanied my grandparents to Boxford, a sweet village outside Boston where Enid has been housebound for years. Robin was there with his kids and Enid’s children were there, too.
I tried to imagine the weekend. Three people, bound by a lifetime of stories – stories of joy and of sorrow, of sickness and of health – stories told out loud and stories told without shame. Stories that recognized the whole truth – that their lives were not free of burden or of pain but instead, were lives woven together by a most complex fabric of ups and downs and hope and despair. It sounds to me like peace – a peace that existed all along and came to the fore even in the face of death. A peace that recognized what was and what is to come and held it all – not letting one part of the story go. When the weekend was over, all three said to each other in the most Welsh, stoic way: I’ll see you next time. A peace spoken from earth to a peace in heaven they know is waiting for them. A peace that reflected the peace of Christ that pursued them all their lives and that they were willing to accept.
When Christ turned to see Jerusalem, he turned to his death. It is the move we make today – from a triumphal entry to the pain of the passion. It seems antithetical that this is a call of peace, doesn’t it? To walk into the suffering, to the betrayal and denial and beating and crucifixion? But that’s part of this story, too. This is the full story of Christ – this is the story he pursues us with – a desire to be gathered up, to be told the Good News, to be offered a peace that surpasses all understanding. To be given a peace that is not hidden from our eyes but instead, is right there – right in front of us. To see this whole story, Christ gives us peace. We’re going to need it if we hope to make it through what is to come.
Open your eyes, friends. Open your eyes this week. And be at peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. In the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.