Peace be with you!
As the elderly shopkeeper turned to add up the amount of my fruit and vegetable purchase, I was surprised to see him deftly using an abacus to make the necessary calculations. His shop was actually a small truck with a makeshift shade cloth extended from its side, so it made sense that his method was old school. Each week he would park beside a group of large apartment blocks, finding hundreds of customers within close range.
I had been living in Kobe, Japan for a few months before I realised I could access these very fresh and inexpensive products once a week via a short walk to the ‘fruit and veg’ truck. The use of the abacus fascinated me. I consequently found out that a popular after school class for Japanese primary school students was ‘soroban’ (abacus) lessons. They were rightly deemed useful as a foundation for mathematics and linear thought processes.
An abacus always gives logical, quantifiable and certain results. Two plus two is always four, six minus three always equals three. If we consider the current state of our pandemic panicked world, it is the opposite of the abacus. Life is uncertain, unquantifiable and our future focus is blurred. Things don’t add up quite right, there are more questions than answers and it leaves us on edge and anxious. ‘There is no abacus in agony’ is a phrase I recently read in a book about pastoral care that aptly describes the challenges and pain that many have experienced in a Covid-19 world.
So what do we do to cope in these uncertain times? Perhaps a better question to ask is, ‘Who can we turn to?’ In John’s Gospel we read that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19–23). The disciples had gathered in a locked room, feeling scared, anxious and very uncertain of the future. As Jesus entered the room, his first words were ‘peace be with you’, a phrase encapsulated in the Hebrew word, Shalom. Jesus then let the disciples examine his wounds, giving time for the reality of his physical presence to sink in before he repeated the phrase, ‘peace be with you’. He continued by saying to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’, a fulfilment of the gift of peace he promised them during his ministry (John 14:26–27).
Jesus brings the blessing of peace into the turmoil of the disciples’ world. In the same way, the peace of God reaches us in the tumultuous times we find ourselves in. Though feelings of fear, worry and uncertainty overwhelm us, the blessing of peace is generously offered to us. It is peace “not as the world gives” (John 14:27), but rather peace that permeates circumstances and uncertainty. This peace is not elusive — it has been promised to us and is available to us. Though we don’t have the same earthly reality of Jesus entering the room and the physical option of seeing his risen body, his wounded hands and side, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who brings the promise of peace into our hearts and lives. Think about when God’s peace has been real to you in the past — was it through prayer, worship, reading Scripture, in quiet listening and seeking, in the encouragement of a person, or in communion with the body of Christ? Be proactive in seeking God’s peace — there may be no abacus in agony, but Jesus offers peace that surpasses understanding even in a pandemic.
Speaker, Southern Region
How have you experienced God’s peace? Share in the comments below!