Peace be with you!
Dear people of God, it is with exceeding joy that we, members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, (GCBC), greet you with the words of the Risen Christ, the same words which he pronounced when he first appeared to his disciples on the evening of Resurrection Sunday. The passage of scripture which recounts this encounter, John 20:19-29 captures, in our humble estimation, the spirit of the Easter Season and provides the basis for profound reflection for the individual Christian, for the Church and indeed for the nation.
The greeting “Peace be with you”, was pronounced three times by the Risen Christ in the passage just referred to. Each time Jesus greeted them with these words he sought to reassure the disciples who were faced with a particular threat. In the first instance, the evangelist John recounts how Jesus appeared to his disciples when these had locked themselves in for fear of the Jews. The mention of the Jews recalls the events that led to the crucifixion and the death of Christ. The disciples faced the real threat of persecution from the same Jewish and Roman authorities who had put Jesus to death. It is in this situation of fear of death that Jesus first appeared to his disciples with his message of peace. His greeting “ peace be with you” , was an indication that he had conquered death and with it the fear of death. His victory was first and foremost a victory over death in all its ramifications - physical, spiritual, moral and psychological. That was the message behind the first greeting of peace.
The second pronouncement by the Risen Christ “peace be with you” remains in the context of his appearance to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection. This time however, John the evangelist notes, that Jesus after greeting his disciples breathed on them the Holy Spirit and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. The second message of the Risen Christ is thus directed against the threat of sin. The resurrection is not only a victory over death; it is also a victory over sin. The reason why Jesus died was to expiate our sins. Thus, as John the Baptist testified, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). The peace that we need is therefore not simply defined in terms of the absence of persecution. It refers also to the relationship each one of us has with our God as well as the relationship we have with each other. Can I truly say that I have risen with Christ from the death of sin to the life of holiness? Am I at peace with my God? And am I at peace with my neighbor?
The third greeting of peace according to our passage of scripture takes place eight days after the first encounter of Jesus with his disciples. Thomas the apostle was not present at the initial encounter and thus retained fierce doubts about the truth of the resurrection. Jesus immediately after appearing to the disciples the third time, addresses Thomas saying “ Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” . But what really was the threat in this instance?
The third threat to the peace of the disciples was the internal disagreement among the disciples of Christ. It was the threat of division. Thomas’ unbelief was not simply a lack of faith in Christ; it also demonstrated a lack of trust in his fellow disciples. It showed the lack of cohesion in the body of the disciples and illustrated the internal struggles that characterize every family, every congregation and every nation. This was the third threat to the disciples which Jesus by his resurrection sought to conquer.
The above has implications for every one of us; as Individual Christians, Christ’s message of peace should calm our personal anxieties and fears; it should assure us that we are able to rise above disappointments and past failures. It should enable us to forgive ourselves, to forgive those who have hurt us and also seek to be reconciled with those we might have offended. Christ’s message of peace should also remind the church of the exhortation of St. Paul to be ambassadors of reconciliation at all times, supporting every effort to create fellowship among God’s people.
The message of Easter is equally relevant to us as a nation. It should give us the assurance that we are able to overcome everything that has come to symbolize death to our people. As a nation, we must and can overcome the scourge of sickness; we can eradicate poverty and end the carnage on our roads. We can and must put an end to the wanton destruction of our environment. The unnecessary death of infants at our health facilities. The message of Easter must encourage us to put an end to all moral ills; it is time to turn our backs to dishonesty, indecency, bribery and corruption, indiscipline, disrespect for our elders, intemperate language, violence and vengeance. The message of Easter must help us to turn our efforts in healing the wounds of division, reconciling broken families, reuniting communities, settling disputes among people of different political persuasions and religious faiths. The message of the Risen Christ is not just his message to us. It is also our message to one another. On this note, we the Catholic Bishops Ghana wish all Ghanaians a Happy Easter.
Once again, we say “ Peace be with you!”
MOST REV. PHILIP NAAMEH CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TAMALE & PRESIDENT, GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE