Sunday’s lesson from John 14: 25-31 contains one of my favorite scriptures: Jesus said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Those words are especially meaningful in light of when it was that Jesus spoke them: at the Last Supper, shortly before his agony in the garden and his betrayal and arrest, followed by his torture and death on the cross. Jesus knows full well what awaits him—but he isn’t concerned about himself, he is concerned about his disciples and their reaction to what will happen to him. A little later during the supper he says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
It was hard for the first disciples to come to terms with what would happen, and we are no different than them. There’s plenty enough fear to go around in this world of ours, and sometimes it is a daily struggle to grasp the peace that Jesus promises to us. Yet it is there for the asking.
Very often in the Bible, God’s people have to be told to “Be not afraid”, or as it is rendered in the King James Version, “Fear not”. Especially when an angel appears, the angel invariably says “Fear not” because of the very human reaction that appearance brings about.
The word translated as fear has a couple of meanings. Psalm 111:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, and Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In that usage of the word fear, it is less about being scared and more about developing a sense of reverence or awe for God’s power. Proverbs 14:7 captures that meaning when it proclaims, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death”
On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around the Lord’s Table with both kinds of fear in our hearts, as we look at a world at war and hundreds of thousands of people uprooted, fearing for their lives. But we also come to the Table with that other sense of fear: a true reverence for God’s loving power, and the ability to recognize the holy in our midst.