As we begin the season of Lent with our 2021 theme "Awake My Soul,"
APC invites you to use and enjoy this special Lenten devotional series from Presbyterians Today (PCUSA) entitled
The Way to Shalom: A Lenten Journey to Peace and Wholeness.
February 17, 2021
Shalom: The Way to Justice (Week 1)

While Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, service and contemplation, at the top of our list should be a prayer for the acquisition of peace. This year for the season of Lent, we invite you to reflect upon the gift of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. In the Bible, shalom can be translated not only as peace, but also as tranquility, security, well-being, health, welfare, completeness and safety. How can we receive this gift of shalom and, in turn, bestow it upon the world? 

In Israel, shalom is both a greeting and a farewell. When greeted by “shalom,” it is a form of hopeful blessing that you are filled with God’s perfect peace and well-being. It is a prayer that you will have health, prosperity and peace of mind and spirit. Shalom denotes fullness and perfection, an overflowing joy that moves from your innermost being and is expressed in the way you live your life and engage with others.

The season of Lent moves us to reflect deeply upon shalom. We live in a world in desperate need of peace. To obtain peace, though, we must explore the full extent of its meaning. The search for shalom must examine it as relational, connectional and communal. It is relational wherein my peace cannot be achieved if others are denied what makes them whole. It recognizes that what impacts you impacts me. It is connectional in that it begins with a recognition that we are children of God created “in the image and likeness of God.” Shalom is communal in that it builds community and enables us to live as one. Scripture proclaims the need for shalom. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, blesses us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27a).

This Lent, let us make our way to shalom — a gift that will bless one another and the world.

Lent 2021 begins with the sobering reminder of Ash Wednesday that we always stand in the need of God’s mercy and grace. God is eager to hear our cries for forgiveness — forgiveness for the times we didn’t work for justice and forgiveness, for the times we took justice into our own hands. This week’s theme of justice as “the way to shalom” invites you to think more deeply about God’s justice and what it looks like in your life. Recall a moment in your life when you received God’s mercy and grace. What was the situation? How did it feel to know you were forgiven? Now think about a time when you withheld forgiveness and when you sought justice on your own. How did that work? Were fractured relationships healed by your own actions? What would have been different if the justice you sought was turned over to God? 

Start a peace prayer “tree” with prayers for justice
Presbyterians Today also invites you to create your own visual reminder of the importance of praying for peace. Using strips of fabric and a fabric marker, write your prayers for peace weekly or daily and then attach them to either a tree in your yard, a railing on the steps of your home or even a fence. Let the fabric, blowing in the wind, be a witness in your community that peace is possible and that it begins with each one of us. Go a step further and share with those in your community about God’s shalom and invite them to add to the peace tree, railing or fence. By Easter morning, may there be hundreds of peace prayers blowing in the wind, greeting a new day with hope. This week, as you read the devotions, write on strips of fabric your prayers for justice in your community and in the world.
Peace in the Holy Land
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
 2 Corinthians 13:11

Peace in Hebrew is the word shalom. There are 236 biblical references with the word shalom in the Old Testament. It can mean peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It is used to mean both hello and goodbye throughout the Middle East. The Jewish greeting is shalom aleichem, meaning “peace be upon you.”          

Peace is often defined as an absence of war or fighting. It has a more positive connotation emoting completeness or wholeness. It is expressed in our relationships with God and humanity, and even with the created world. It involves positive engagements in the relationships between human beings.

Peace is a state of balance and harmony arising out of our desire to be one with God. It is our duty not only to seek peace, but to strive for its attainment in every sphere of life. We are called to seek peace for every living person. If peace is absent from any community, the negative consequences could include conflict and possibly death. We pray for peace to permeate our lives and every region of the world, especially in the region which blessed us with the Prince of Peace.

Today, as the season of Lent begins with ashes being bestowed virtually in a time of COVID-19, we pray for peace for all people. We especially turn our attention to the need for peace in the Holy Land. The Middle East, like many regions in the world, suffers from a lack of peace. Life has become increasingly difficult for Christians living in the Holy Land. In Israel there has been a rapid decrease in Christian residents as their numbers have dropped to just 2% of the population. The tiny Christian communities experience intense societal pressure as they are caught between much larger Muslim and Jewish populations. Their experience is similar to that of West Bank Palestinians as residents and rights groups document land seizures, arbitrary detentions and collective punishment as a part of the Israeli occupation.

Most gracious and loving God, we pray for justice and peace that leads to an end to violence. We pray that those who struggle internally might be blessed with the spirit of God, which grants up solace. We pray for the presence of the Prince of Peace in the hearts of those who believe. Move us all to actions of peace and justice. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
About the authors:
The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., is joined by colleagues Catherine Gordon, associate for international issues; Christian Brooks, representative for domestic poverty issues; Sue Rheem, representative for the United Nations; and Ivy Lopedito, a mission specialist for the United Nations, in writing this year’s devotional. The Office of Public Witness is the denomination’s advocate and social witness in Washington, D.C. Learn more.
Alpharetta Presbyterian Church
180 Academy Street, Alpharetta, GA 30009