The Divine Gift of “Shalom” in a Good Death | Marc Tumeinski | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The truth, reality, gift, and desire of shalom make up a thread running through all of Scripture, throughout our whole Christian faith life, through the Mass, and through all of the sacraments.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. … ” On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram. (Gn 15:12-15, 18a)
“You shall go to your fathers in peace” (Gn 15:15). 1 How many times have we said or heard at a funeral or wake, “she looks so peaceful,” “now finally he is at peace.” These sentiments point us to a truth of our shared faith as Christians, and to the roots of the faith shared with our Jewish brothers and sisters. We might rightly call this truth the peace of a good and holy death, or in Old Testament language, the shalom 2 of a good death. Such peace we believe is a gift from the one good giver—our God and Father, merciful and almighty. What is this shalom? Where do we as Christians find the shalom of a good death in eternal life with God?
Shalom is rightly understood as “peace,” but this simple noun barely hints at the depth, power, and beauty of this biblical concept. (The Hebrew shalom and the Greek eirene are mentioned almost 700 times in the entire Bible. For simplicity’s sake, I will use the single term “shalom” but intend that to represent the Hebrew shalom and its variants, as well as the Greek eirene and its variants). Throughout Scripture, shalom is variously described as concord between peoples; seeking the good of a country or even a city; praying for the welfare of other people; physical safety; a good death; material prosperity; and spiritual well-being. 3 Shalom is associated with love, justice, truth, wholeness, and rightness. 4 Shalom is not merely the absence of conflict, but it is positively characterized in Scripture by such things as good relations between neighbors, as well as between enemies, freedom of worship, abundance, prosperity, and security among all peoples. For the Christian, shalom is seen as a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but also something for which we must work.
The truth, reality, gift, and desire of shalom make up a thread running through all of Scripture, throughout our whole Christian faith life, through the Mass, and through all of the sacraments. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out that one of the names used by the early Church for the Eucharist—the Bread which we receive at Mass—was pax, which means peace.