4th Epiphany 2018
The Collect for the Day
January 28 2018
St. Stephen’s, Oak Harbor
Blessed be the Name of God
In the collect for the day, the prayer we prayed together at the beginning of the liturgy this morning, we implored God, “Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace…”
“…in our time grant us your peace…” As I prayed my way through this prayer earlier in the week, moving toward what I would say to you this morning, I could not help but recall the hymn we sang last Sunday, just before the gospel reading.
The gospel was a passage from Mark, where we read about the calling of the first of Jesus’ disciples. You remember. To Simon and Andrew, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Then, straight away, Jesus saw the brothers Zebedee, James and John. He called them as well, and they left their father to follow. It was on this text that Amy preached so persuasively about the tendency of Jesus to intrude into our lives with something new.
The hymn we sang in procession to the reading of the Gospel was number 661 in the Hymnal1982. It is doubtless a hymn that was sung throughout the Church last week, just as we did and right before the reading of the Markan story of the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John.
They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;
Such happy simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.
Written by William Alexander Percy and originally published in 1924, this poem, called “His Peace,” originally began,
I love to think of them at dawn beneath the frail pink sky,
Casting their nets in Galilee and fish-hawks circling by.
Casting their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown…
Born in Greenville MS in 1885, William Alexander Percy was
a lawyer by training, a plantation owner, a gay man and a poet. He died in 1942, also in Greenville MS, 76 years ago last Sunday.
As with so many things that are part of the Episcopal Church, I have sung this hymn all my life. In the previous hymnal, dated 1940, it was number 437. I have always found this hymn quite startling and always moving. “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.” And so we have, my friends, just this morning, prayed for this very thing, “the marvelous peace of God.”
The poet gives us his take on this gift, la paz de Dios. In the poet’s vision, the followers of Jesus were truly given the peace of God. It filled them “brimful.” And yet,
though filled to the brim with this very peace, it “broke them too.” The poet seems to have taken the martyrdom of John and Peter as expressive of what being peace-filled meant, “strife closed in the sod.” Yet, says the poet, we must, nonetheless, pray for this one thing. Singing this hymn typically moves me to tears, as it did last week.
“The marvelous peace of God,” filled with responsibilities, opportunities and perhaps even peril. The text of that hymn has come to mind when I hear people talk about the ease of the Christian life. The poet suspects that life with God, even the companionship of Jesus, is not an entirely blissful relationship. Being faithful, in other words, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing up to oppression, welcoming the strangers, might very well be risky business. So the poet suggests. That’s one engagement of the peace of God.
There is another.
At the end of the Rite One Eucharist in the Prayer Book, there is a blessing printed that has been in the Book from the beginning. I’ve not been able to track its history prior to 1549, but since then, it has been a veritable staple in Anglican liturgical experience.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and mind in the knowledge and love of God and of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord…[BCP 339]
Familiar to you I’m sure. I have spoken that blessing from that altar/table any number of times.
Here we meet “the peace of God” in a rather different guise. Here, in the first instance, the peace of God exceeds our abilitIy to know and understand. It exceeds our capacity to comprehend. It “passeth all understanding.” We simply can’t “get it.” But this mysterious peace nonetheless is capable of keeping us mindful of our place in the life of
God, awakening and reassuring our hearts and minds of the love of God and the fellowship of Jesus.
That is to say, as we leave this place, this table and these companions, we are assured by this benediction, that, by the peace of God, we will be sustained in relationship, in “knowledge and love,” with the Creator of the Universe; we will know we are linked to Jesus. This is strength and comfort here. This is a second engagement with the peace of God.
There is yet another.
In the vocabulary and spirituality of our Jewish faith companions, there is a frequently used word that we will recognize, “Shalom.” Often used as both a word of greeting and a word of farewell, shalom is easily and most commonly rendered simply “peace.” But deeper into its meaning, one finds notions of wholeness or completion or perfection. It is here that we come to a third expression of the peace, the shalom of God.
You and I expect that, in the long run, things will be fine. Today may be messy but in the long run, things will be fine. And it will be God’s doing. All the pieces of the puzzle will fit together. All the sharp and hurtful edges will be gone. Everything that is out of joint will be set right. If resolution is the case, then things will be at rest. If chaos is the case, then there will only be color and action but no collisions and no loss. In either case, creation and human interaction will be as God has intended from the beginning. “All in all” will have come to be. All the promises will have been fulfilled, and we will be glad. The shalom of God.
“…and in our time grant us your peace.” So we have prayed. In praying in this way, what is it we expect or hope for? “…and in our time grant us your peace.”
“The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod…” We have sung these words. “The peace of God that passeth all understanding…” We have taken to heart these words in benediction. And underneath it all, we have yearned for and expected the shalom of God, and all that it promises. What do you expect?
Very soon, as the liturgy moves along, we will greet each other in God’s name. Typically, we’ll extent to each other “the peace.” On the face of it, this moment in the service seems a very warm and friendly time, full of smiles and the occasional hug. The middle aisle gets clogged and the introverted ones, like me, we linger back a bit but somehow or the other, we seem all to greet all.
Historically, this ritual moment was called the Kiss of Peace. It was done only in the midst of the liturgy to welcome the newly baptized into the community of the faithful. It was not, originally, a typical part of the usual Sunday service. Instead, this exchange marked the entry into the community of the baptized, ones who had been properly prepared, washed, anointed and touched by proper hands, the newly initiated. In a time of possible persecution and harm, the greeting in peace was a mark of safety, a time that testified to the ingathering of someone into the welcoming arms of the Church, into the Body of Christ. For the newly gathered, it would have been a remarkably powerful moment, a part of their passage, a mark that they had accomplished their crossing over. More than a placid sort of “good morning,” it would have been filled with complex, faithful, Godly energy.
Over time, this ritual moment has become rather domesticated and there’s likely nothing wrong with that, so long as we remember the dynamic that still resides in those words. We must not misunderstand or treat them lightly. The peace of God, “strife closed
in the sod,” peril and responsibility. The peace of God, benediction and security. The peace of God, the full and final expression of God’s good intentions for all creation. It’s all there, still, and with power. Please remember!
“The Peace of the Lord be always with you.” [“And also with you.”]
Blessed be the Name of God