Throughout the Easter season, we hear various stories about Jesus appearing to people after his Resurrection, and sometimes we hear him use the phrase, "Peace be with you" like he did today. It's important to understand that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to a lot of people, spoke with them, and gave them words of hope, but he didn't use the greeting, "Peace be with you" for everybody. Anytime the phrase "Peace be with you" is used, it is used in greeting the apostles and disciples. It's not the only way he greeted them after the Resurrection, but they were the only ones who received that explicit greeting of peace.
Now, I think this happened for a couple reasons. The first reason is that they needed it. Imagine you are one of the apostles. The last time you saw Jesus, he was getting arrested by a mob in the Garden of Gethsemane, and you were fleeing the opposite direction. Now that he's back and everything he claimed about himself seems to be true, you're going to have to deal with your actions, or at least you think you are. So he appears, and you're heart is obviously filled with elation that he's alive, but also dread because you remember your cowardice at his hour of need. So you're really ready to be sharply rebuked by Jesus, maybe even dismissed from among his followers for your lack of faith. And when he opens his mouth, rather than a word of rebuke, he says, "Peace be with you." This word of peace contains the forgiveness you never thought you'd hear, and with that forgiveness, new hope for the future. The apostles needed to hear this word of peace from Jesus.
But why didn't Jesus greet more people with, "Peace be with you." Why didn't he extend this word of peace to more than just the apostles? It's not just an unfortunate coincidence that Jesus only greeted the apostles with this phrase, but rather there is a lesson in this for us. The other reason Jesus only said "Peace be with you" to his apostles is that Jesus wants us to experience his peace, but he wants us to experience it through his apostles, and the successors to the apostles, the bishops of his Church. Jesus wants us to experience his peace, the peace that only he can give, through his Church.
Now here we can learn a little something about our bishops and the way Jesus set up our Church, and we can learn it by looking at the liturgy, because the liturgy isn't just something we made up as an act of self-expression, but the liturgy is where we meet the real and living God. So when a priest begins Mass, he says, "The Lord be with you," but when a bishop begins Mass, he says, "Peace be with you." It's a subtle but important difference. Any power (if we may use that word) that a priest has to function as a priest is largely a dependent power. He doesn't have it of himself, he has power through his bishop, so he has to ask that the Lord be with you, and all the peace attached to that. But a bishop shares more fully in the priesthood of Christ, so by his own inherent authority, he can say, "Peace be with you," because he himself possesses the very peace of Christ.
Now the sign of peace before communion is something else entirely. While the bishop at the beginning of Mass gives us Christ's peace by his own authority, the sign of peace before communion is where we express charity to each other. At the sign of peace we don't authoritatively bestow Christ's peace like a bishop does, but we ask that Christ's peace may reside with our brothers and sisters. It's not a cocktail hour or a chance to greet friends, but it should be marked by the gentle sobriety that we find in the rest of the Mass.
Now, back to the main topic, that Jesus wants us to experience his own peace through his apostles and through his Church. First, let's identify what we mean by Christ's peace as a gift. When Jesus says, "Peace be with you," he's not just giving an awkward greeting, but he's offering his peace as a gift, and it's a gift we can't get anywhere else. Jesus's words have power. When he says, "This is my Body," it's really his Body, and when he says, "Peace be with you," he's really offering a peace that can only come from the Holy Trinity. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity live in perfect peace and joy with each other, so when Jesus offers us peace, it's a peace that comes from living in right relation with God and the world, and God wants us to live. This peace gives your life a sense of meaning, dignity, and tranquility that you can't get anywhere else. And now, Jesus has given real power to the leaders of our Church to bestow that peace on the world, so that we don't hear those words of peace only in our head or our heart, but we hear them spoken with the power of Jesus by his Church.
So the call for us is that if we want to experience this peace of Christ, this peace that comes through his Church, we have to live in right relation to his Church. Jesus has given his Church real power to bestow his peace, and he has given his Church real power to teach in his name. So if we like to hold opinions different than the Church and say, "The Church is wrong about this or that," or, "The Church teaches this, but I believe that," then we are removing ourselves from the peace that Jesus wants to give to us through his Church. Receiving Christ's peace comes from living in communion with his Church. The invitation from Jesus today is just to trust, to trust that he really has given his Church authority to teach, to trust that God wants whats best for us through the Church, and to trust that the peace that comes from living in communion with him is unlike anything else in the world. If we live in communion with Christ's Church, Christ's bride, then we can experience the gift of his peace that he wants to bestow on us through her, and one day we can experience perfect peace of life in Heaven.