Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~ John 14:27
This devotional meditation was originally written in December of 2019 and published in the Devotions for Lent booklet created and distributed by The Church of the Good Shepherd UMC — before the world changed for us all. It appears as the reading for today (April 4, 2020). I pray the words may offer you a peace that passes all understanding in your time and place this day.
I’m well acquainted with sweeping things under the rug to “preserve the peace,” buttoning my lip in order not to “disrupt the peace” and occasionally inserting myself to “restore the peace,” but I confess that being asked to “pass the peace” during a church service leaves me somewhat uncomfortable. While others seem to revel in the greetings with warm handshakes and hugs, I suspect there is more to this than well-wishing and the opportunity to visit with those in the next pew or across the aisle.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. When Christ offered these words of comfort to his disciples he was preparing them for the days he knew lay ahead. We are heirs to this same peace, one that is both personal and relational, a shalom. Because the Light of Christ has come into the world we are invited to enact that peace, offering it to each other in an expression of warmth, comfort and welcome.
This is such a simple act, yet brimming with faithfulness and trust, because how well do I really know you? True, you are my pew-mate, my neighbor, my co-parishioner or perhaps my guest, but what about the politics you practice, the parenting style you’ve adopted and the lifestyle you lead? Whoa, what a risk Jesus took in leaving His peace with us!
I do not give to you as the world gives. This is not a worldly peace – nothing so temporary as a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities, nor so transient as a handshake or a hug. The peace Christ gives is insurmountable and uncontainable, yet when I hold it in my hand it weighs nothing and means everything. It is the peace that settles on a prayer-filled room where everything is at stake but there is nothing left to be done. This peace passes all understanding, yet it extends tangibly and undeniably from hand to hand and heart to willing heart.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. As I extend my hand to offer the peace of the Living Christ to you, my friend, my neighbor, my companion on this journey of faith, may the weight of our world be lifted and the love of Christ take its place both within us and between us. For there is nothing in the universe as constant as the presence of Jesus who promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Today: Consider these words of remarkable dialogue from the beautifully conceived play, Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson: “I choose to measure you in light.” If the hand we extend is filled with the peace of Christ, how now may we see the other by the Light of Christ? Blessed indeed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.
Tension. It’s the greatest scourge of our times.
Not anxiety, not worry, and not fear. As destructive as these are and as frequently as we are chastised for feeling them or cautioned about employing them, they are not what’s keeping us from moving forward in our days.
What’s really upending us is tension. Tensing is our body’s answer to what ails us and confronts us. Be ready, it says, don’t get caught off guard. Be diligent, don’t be found unaware. Be clever, don’t be fooled. These “be’s” have us wound tight and ready to spring. The irony is that the chronic contraction has nearly disabled our ability to move at all.
How much better off we’d be if we all took a deep breath with a big exhale to calm ourselves enough to actually feel our physical. To attend to the inward, to go deeper, to sit and chat a while with those emotions and sensations. Why not ask their names and where they hale from? Perhaps they’ll give you a temporary pass to explore just a bit, or at least negotiate a temporary ceasefire.
It’s funny what you find when you go there and see what shakes out. I went rummaging this morning, wondering about the root of my reaction to gripping tightly, and there I discovered a small child of five or six holding fast to the string of a red balloon. She was smiling up at her mom and dad as they walked together to the car after the school fair, until she saw the treasured prize begin to float up into the air. Soon it was aloft on the wind, growing smaller and smaller. Tears. Dismay. Gone.
We hold tight to things we love. But life has a way of teaching us that no earthly thing is forever. That we’d do well to hold it loosely, give it some breathing room and see where it takes us. If we’re on speaking terms, maybe it will tell us what we need to hear or show us what we need to do. If we are lucky and we listen carefully, it may explain itself to us — it may explain ourself to us — and that is profound gift.
Did you know you had been clenching your fists? grinding your teeth? furrowing your brow? What if you were to say, Hey, it’s okay to let your guard down for a moment. Take a break from the front lines. Release the weight of responsibility you’ve been bench-pressing. Relax and let another shoulder the burden for a moment. Allow yourself to recover and regroup.
The most amazing thing happens when we step back and exhale the breath we didn’t realize we’d been holding: the collapse we were expecting doesn’t come. We straighten instead. And, in our straightening, we extend.
No need to let go completely, just loosen our grip. Look at all the options we’ve been missing. Imagine if I had seen then that all any child needed was a small weight at the end of her balloon string so she need not worry. I’d be set for life!