In the upper room the disciples encounter the ongoing reality of Jesus, and the whole world changes. When someone we love dies, we build a mausoleum to them in our hearts and memories, and everything they did and said slowly acquires the soft focus that time brings. Time gradually erodes the real person, who was always more than our experience of them, and leaves us instead with a fading memory.
But Jesus is rock solid present reality, not a ghost who fades away but a person who stands before us and says 'peace be with you.'
This is a peace that flows from the reality of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and who he is and will be forever. And so it is a peace that challenges us and calls us to change. It is not the peace that comes with time, the natural healing, the gradual forgetting of pain or grief. It is a peace that can only come in the present moment of encounter with Jesus, and which stands or falls as we stand or fall before him.
'Peace be with you' is not just the first thing the Risen Jesus says to his disciples: it is the second thing as well. Twice he bids them peace. Christian peace is so rock solid and real, and so far from blind optimism, that it has to be given twice by the risen Lord.
His first greeting of peace is followed by his showing them his wounded hands and side. The first peace is the peace that stills our fear. Every moment in some way or other we human beings are reckoning with death. It might be in the way we try to control the people or the environment around us; the anxiety about the future and for those we love; the aversion to change or the refusal to settle for the same old thing - the fear of death is always with us in one form or another. But Jesus has shown us his hands and his side. He is marked by death, but he lives. Death silenced him on the cross, but now he speaks to each man and woman.
These wounds of Jesus bring us the first peace, a peace that stills and calms the storm of fear within us. His death is a wound for which time is certainly no healer - the guilt of that sin is upon each sinner as much today as it was then. But his peace is a healer, as he gives us a peace that has destroyed death, in a life no longer bounded by death. Do not be afraid, be still, for in dying I have changed the meaning of your death, the Lord says to us.
But there is more to our faith than a calming of fear. The calming merely prepares us for another gift, as Jesus again says "Peace be with you', and breathes on his disciples: "Receive the Holy Spirit." The Spirit is not given to us to calm our nerves, but to enliven and energise. "Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, those whose sins you retain they are retained."
This second gift of peace is not an answer to death so much as a entirely new sort of human life, moving according to the inspirations and energy of the divine life. It does not just make us recipients of forgiveness and mercy: it inserts the us into the ongoing mystery of Jesus, real and present in our world forgiving sin, healing wounds and preaching the mystery of the kingdom. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Today we celebrate the full depth of the peace of Christ, the peace we are part of by belonging to each other in the Body of Christ. He, Our Lord, is not another memory from the past, handed on by a forgetful band of devotees. He is the rock solid, present moment offer of grace to us by the Father in the Spirit of God. Peace be with you, he says to us today. Receive the Holy Spirit, so that through us the world will encounter this ever present mystery of forgiveness and mercy which alone can set it free.