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, John20:19-29   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   youremains  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 neighbour?

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!”




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