We’ve just celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus and now we’re invited to extend our celebration for the seven weeks that make up the season of Easter in the Christian Year. We could fruitfully dwell on a variety of Easter themes: the “newness of life” that comes from dying with Christ (Rom 6:1-4), the “new self” being shaped in each of us by God’s Spirit (Col 3:9-10) or the hope of eternal life in the “new heaven and earth” (Rev 1:1-7). Here’s another one: the gift of shalom.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, his first words were: “Peace (shalom) be with you.” In part, he meant to calm them down in their fearfulness, but he also wanted to remind them of his promise from a few days earlier: “Peace (shalom) I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 13:27).
The Hebrew word shalom is usually translated as peace in our Bibles. The word peace, however, can seem a bit thin compared to the rich texture of shalom. Shalom certainly includes the connotations of harmony (vs. conflict) and calmness (vs. agitation). But shalom goes much deeper, encompassing notions of wholeness and justice and reconciliation and plenty and beauty. Shalom applies not only to our lives as individuals but also to our social environments and institutional settings. We’re talking here about human flourishing and societal well-being.
As you head into the last weeks of the school year, let me give you an invitation and a challenge.
Shalom for you
What stresses do you face now and in the coming weeks? Some are obvious: your assignments to complete, your final exams, your grad school applications, your job prospects, etc. Some may be particular to you: tension or uncertainty in a dating relationship, anxiety about returning home for the summer, an unresolved conflict with a friend, accumulated exhaustion or persistent depression. Here’s the invitation: in the throes of these pressures, receive shalom.
Here is how Paul put it for the Philippians:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-7).
We can choose every day to rejoice in the grace of Jesus (he died for us) and his provision of new life (he rose for us). We can practice kindness and generosity to those around us—our classmates, apartment mates, or co-workers—so as to add light, not heaviness. We can start and end each day in God’s presence. We can make our habit of prayer an antidote to worry, telling God honestly what we are facing and feeling. And we can stay thankful. Do these things and shalom will guard you!
Shalom for your campus
Here’s the challenge: don’t just finish out the term seeking shalom for yourself, but in some way seek shalom for some other person in your sphere of the campus. The prophet Jeremiah wrote startling instructions to the beleaguered Jews in Babylonian exile:
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Who needs some caring attention from you in these next weeks? Who might be open to a more direct spiritual conversation with you because of the trust you have gained with them? What professor would be encouraged by an expression of appreciation? What act of service could you (with others) do to bring a bit of light or justice or joy to your lab or dorm floor or work place or student club? How could you (with others) pray for the well-being and blessing of this campus that has been your home for these months and years?
May you experience the sweet taste of shalom for yourself and offer it to others during this season.