May God's Peace Be Upon You: Advent Meditation, 12/8/2012
Lately the religious diversity of the United States is more apparent. As a result of this increased awareness and familiarity with other religious communities, we get more opportunities to participate in what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl calls “Holy envy.” Holy envy is simply an acknowledgment of traditions and practices in other faith communities for which we show open admiration.
I experience holy envy with the traditional Islamic greeting, “Assalaamu alaikum,” which is Arabic for “God’s peace be upon you.” Doubtlessly, many of you will reflect that as Episcopalians we have the same tradition. Indeed, it is written right into our liturgies. Every time we pass the peace and celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we pray God’s peace upon each other. What I find unique about the Islamic greeting, though, is the multitude of meanings for peace buried in that simple two-word phrase.
Over the years, many scholars have attempted to elucidate the profound meaningfulness of the salaam or peace at the core of the Islamic salutation. Some say that the salutation refers to one of the exalted names of God, like Jesus as our Prince of Peace. Others suggest that this peace invokes the protection of God. Lastly (and this is where the holy envy truly comes in), one of my favorite Islamic interpretations of peace says the greeting means “You are safe with me. I will never do you any harm, so do not be frightened!”
In our scripture today, Jesus reminds the Twelve that it is not yet the time to bring the Good News to those who are far away. First, they need to share with their immediate communities. In this small lesson Jesus enhances the paradigm from one in which blessings, healing, and peace only come down from above. He empowers his disciples and us by broadening the paradigm such that we can give blessings, healing, and peace to each other. Plus, this lesson teaches us that there is plenty to go around, so you can afford to be really generous with your peace-giving. Jesus sent the Twelve to their families and neighbors with this message: Don’t be frightened. We won’t harm you. You are safe with us. The kingdom of God is here and everyone is welcome.
Just as the multitude of angels sang a message of peace on earth to the humble shepherds camped near Bethlehem one starry night, so the message was the same from Jesus to the Twelve, and to us today. God’s peace is available to us in abundance. We just have to remember to give it to each other. Generously.
May God’s peace be upon you.
“Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.” Amen (“Let There Be Peace on Earth” by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller).