Greetings, Creator family, and Peace
What a premium we place on “peace.” We talk about achieving it, we expend large amounts of energy to possess it, and we cherish it when we have it. But how often do we really…have it?
Liturgically speaking, perhaps our longtime Episcopalians will recall the controversy that overshadowed the change in 1979 BCP. The addition of the “peace” to the middle of the service drew no small amount of attention as an interruption to the normal flow, and a distraction to the real purpose of being in church. I remember the strained effort to integrate this practice into the service and the delicate attempts to teach the importance of the “peace” as a part of our liturgical history. I also remember the extra effort that was required to trust that this was a good thing and to move on. Many years have passed since this “innovation” was introduced (really it was a resurrected tradition from the earliest days of the church) and I have seen the “peace” grow and then lose meaning as a witness to the larger reality that it is actually quite difficult to grasp “peace” at all.
In relationships, especially marriages, we fool ourselves into believing that we have peace when there is no conflict, but this is a lie. Peace is not the absence of conflict -not in the Christian sense; peace is the actual presence of the Holy, the presence of God in our midst. You see, Jesus doesn’t promise us the peace we understand - that is the lie. He promises us the peace beyond our understanding -that is the gift. When we substitute the peace of “mediocre acceptance” for the palpable peace of Christ, we have settled for far less than we have been promised and live our lives disquieted and unsettled.
Sadly, over time, as we grow to accept the “the lack of conflict is peace” lie, the whole of our lives must compensate. This acceptance demands a dumbing down of all the words of Christ to the point they become meaningless. This infection of distrust and disbelief dominates our spiritual life and soon, without realizing it, we are saying to ourselves (and others) that the Gospel is all metaphor or that it simply does not apply to us.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus promised us miraculous gifts and they are ours for the taking, but we must be able to recognize them to receive them; to be able to read the directions in order to comprehend them; to be willing to follow in trust, not to forge ahead on our own. The dumbing down of Jesus - His life and His words - must be fought with everything we have, and accepting His peace is a great place to make our stand.
To accept His peace, we must stop trying to dictate the way we will receive it. The truth is, we want it on our terms and in a manner that pleases us with as little effort as possible, but that is not how God has chosen to give His gifts. If we put as much effort into our life in Christ as we do into our avoidance techniques, if we expend as much energy in our search for greater depth in God as we do suppress our emotions during those periods of “lack of conflict,” then we would have all that we so desire—and more; more than we can understand.
The “Peace” in the middle of our Sunday services provides us with a divine opportunity, more than a time to share recipes or to tell fish stories; it is a time of reflection, hope, and prayer. In those few moments we are given the opportunity to embrace the reality of the peace of Christ as beyond our comprehension and we are bathed in the presence of the Holy Spirit as we pray that peace to be present in the lives of those we greet in Christ’s name.
C.S. Lewis was fond of saying that if we live a certain way, we will soon be the way we live. That’s pretty telling. Perhaps, as we live the peace of Christ in the midst of our services, we will embrace the peace of Christ in the midst of our lives. Once this true peace (His peace) is known to us, the days of settling will be a part of the disquieted past and the rest of His words, no longer regarded as metaphor, will ring with divine truth.
Jesus told us, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) This is his gift to us as we grow in our understanding and devotion to him. St. Paul brings us home to Christ when he said,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God,and our Lord Jesus Christ. (John 4:4-7)
In the peace of Christ,
Father Bill Burk†