Grace and peace.

There are days when these words fall on us like ash instead of rain — times like yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing, when sweet promises turn bitter and hope is shrouded in the smoke of our depravity.

I see no grace, we say. There is no peace.

It has been so through the ages, yet the Apostle Paul dares to wrap up his greeting to the church at Colossae with same bold words he uses in each of his thirteen letters:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

On the face of it, this sentence is just a passing sentiment, a combination of a typical Greek greeting (grace to you) and a traditional Hebrew one (peace). These phrases had become the “hello” and “how are you?” of the day, simple opening words uttered without dwelling on meaning.

But Paul adds two important twists: first, he substitutes the word charis, grace offered by Christ, for the usual charein, a wish of grace and well-being offered by a friend. Second, he qualifies both greetings with the phrase from God our Father.

This world constantly greets us the old way. Charein! It promises grace and well-being. Eirene! It promises peace without God, the word literally meaning “security, safety, freedom from the havoc of war.”

Work harder, better, stronger, smarter, and you can be safe. Just be yourself, and all will be okay.

I have dug to the bottom of myself to find this kind of grace and peace. I have stretched out my hands to people and places searching for it. I have built fortresses of plans and promises to try to bring it within my grasp. They come crumbling down so that God can teach me to run to strong tower of His name.

I have tried, too, to offer these promises of grace and peace to my friends and my children, greeting them with all of the concern and care I can conjure from my own strength. I learn again and again that I can offer help, but only Christ can heal.

Paul’s greeting tells us he knew this well. The careless grace and peace that fall from the lips of the world will not cover all the Colossians are about to face – an earthquake that would destroy their city, a time of intense persecution for their faith.

Days when just running their race will end in darkness.

Only grace from the cross is enough. Only peace from God our Father gives us freedom from the havoc of war.

The grace and peace of the world stops short of the line; it cannot promise tomorrow. But His grace and peace proclaim It is finished.

Read the next post in The Colossians Project.

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