Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”John 20:19
People across all cultures and nationalities greet each other when they cross paths. The greeting can be verbal or non-verbal. The non-verbal greetings can range from a simple handshake to touching the hands lightly and bringing it to the heart (Malaysia), to bumping nose (many Arabs), to a kiss on the cheek, to sticking out your tongue (Tibet). It is considered rude not to do so!
This is cultural, I believe. So I do not think it is a sin for us not to kiss one another, according to Paul’s exhortation. It is sufficient, I believe, for us to appreciate that tactile or physical contact is crucial if we are to build relationships with one another. Thus, handshakes are not meaningless cultural gestures. We should encourage it.
Nevertheless, I think verbal greetings carry a greater significance. Again, different cultures have different ways of verbalising a greeting. It ranges from a simple “Hi” or “hello” to “howdy” to “bonjour” to “nin hao” to “namaste” (Indians) to “Ohayo” (Japanese) to “Selamat” (Malays) to “Kamusta” (Filipino).
No, I do not doubt that we can use these words in greetings. It is certainly no sin to say, “how are you?” or “good morning” when we see one another.
But I wonder if we can learn something from how our Lord greeted His disciples.
Now, I am sure we all know that the most common greeting that the Lord use with His disciples is ‘Shalom’ or more fully ‘Shalom Aleichem’—“peace unto you all.”
Where do we get the idea from? Interestingly in the Scriptures, the only place we find the Lord greeting His disciples with these words is in John 20, after His resurrection.
But what can we learn from this greeting of the Lord? Here are three things.
1. Don’t Make Too Much of It
Many of us will know that there are not many religious Jews in Israel today. So the greeting ‘Shalom Aleichem’ is rarely used today except by orthodox Jews. ‘Shalom’ is commonly used in place of ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, just like ‘Selamat’ in Malay. So it is not often said mindfully.
What about during the days of the Lord and His apostles? Well, ‘Shalom Aleichem’ was a standard greeting among the Jews! By ‘shalom’ or ‘peace’, they “denote all that cheerfulness and prosperity which is usually desired for a happy life.” So the greetings simply mean, “May you be well and prosperous!”
Thus, says Calvin, “Christ intended nothing else than to desire that his disciples might be happy and prosperous” when He used the same greeting.
This is quite surprising coming from Calvin, but it is not difficult to see how a failure to appreciate his caution can lead Christian interpreters into unnecessary speculations.
Christians, especially, should not insist that the only verbal greeting we should use is “peace be unto you” because the Lord said it!
2. Don’t Make Too Little of It
So the greeting, “Peace be to you,” is not distinctly Christian. It is not intended for us to emulate literally.
However, something tells us that the apostle John did not record the Lord’s greetings merely to depict a courteous greeting that has little meaning beyond a simple wish.
We say that because the Lord had earlier indicated to His disciples that the peace He leaves for His disciples is not the same as what the world may wish for them. He says in John 14:27—“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
What’s the context of those words? It is His promise of the Holy Spirit. Look at John 14:26! Likewise, in our text, we see the Lord connecting His greeting of peace with the giving of the Holy Spirit. Verse 21 reads, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
In other words, what John is recording, is the Lord Jesus giving the standard greeting of shalom, a much deeper and fuller meaning! It is no longer a superficial, empty wish: not that He has ever used it as a superficial wish, but that He is demonstrating that His words should not be understood as idle words.
He wishes for His disciples health and prosperity, but health and prosperity will only come about through the Holy Spirit.
This being the case, it behoves us, if we are to be imitators of Christ, not to trivialise our greetings to one another. We must not make too little of our Lord’s example.
3. Seek to Greet One Another Meaningfully
Experience teaches us that well-informed and conscientious Christians are often stiff and paralysed when it comes to human interactions. This is why Presbyterians are often known to be cool as cucumbers, whereas Charismatics are known to be airy and fuzzy.
But if we are to be imitators of the Lord, we should not be stiff and awkward towards each other. Nor should we be flippant and superficial towards each other.
We should make it a point to greet one another. We must teach our children to do so. It is rude not to greet. But let us seek to greet meaningfully.
It is not wrong to say “good morning” or “good evening,” but let us say it with a heartfelt desire for the Lord’s blessing upon whom we greet. Perhaps, we could even add, “The Lord bless you,” if that helps us to be more deliberate in our greetings. Or perhaps we should learn from other Christian cultures to greet with “charis” (grace), “Christ is risen,” or something else meaningful but not awkward.
What’s the point of talking about this mundane subject? Well, remember that we are building a covenant community for the glory of Christ. We want to encourage each other and bear testimony to the world that we love one another. Unless we begin with this simple exercise of greeting one another as Christ did, how will the world perceive us? How would we feel one another’s warmth?
May the Lord help us—as those who have found peace with God because of Christ’s atonement for us—to seek to cultivate peace with one another: so we can enjoy each other more and more, and in that way, enjoy God more. Amen.