Refusing the Peace of Christ
Robynn recently returned from a dream-come-true trip to Prince Edward Island. While she was away she wrote this…
Sunday morning I woke late. It was lovely to sleep in. The quiet cottage whispered good morning silently. I crawled out of bed, made a cup of coffee, and popped into the shower. As I was getting dressed I looked at the clock. I realized I had plenty of time to get to church. I added earrings and lipstick to Sunday up my outfit a little, grabbed my bible and bag and headed out the door.
I had this keen sense of being drawn to the Catholic church in the center of town, St Dunstan’s Basilica. Although I am Protestant I enjoy an occasional Catholic service. I love the liturgy. I love the profound sense of the holy that Catholics have preserved for the church universal. I love the idea that believers world-wide gather across the globe and repeat the same words—the Apostle’s Creed, the Our Father– in different languages and dialects, but the same words nonetheless. My globally scattered soul finds deep pleasure in that.
I entered the service twenty minutes late. All the churches we had passed on the island had notices indicating a standard eleven o’clock start time. These were all country churches. Apparently the city churches started earlier. I slipped into the back row and joined the creed midway. I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…. The words washed over my spirit. My heart heard and affirmed, I did believe. Tears gathered in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks as the organ started up. Choir members sang the prayers and recited the hymns. A lay person led the intercession. My tears continued as he prayed for Christians in Iraq and Syria and Nigeria. Lord hear our prayer. He pleaded for the sick, the grieving, the broken hearted. Lord hear our prayer. He prayed for the family, the community, the church around the world. Lord hear our prayer.
Soon after the green robed priest invited us to exchange the Peace of Christ with one another. Although I don’t have a great deal of experience, extending the unfathomable peace of Jesus with friends or with strangers, in the context of community, is one of my most cherished moments in a liturgical service. It’s one of my favorite parts of the mass. There is something profoundly significant in touching another person and declaring over them, “the peace of Christ”. It’s what we all long for. The ache inside each person is really only ever satisfied in the peace of Christ. There is holiness in the hand shake, or the kiss, or the embrace that is cloaked in that peace.
Imagine then my shock when I turned to the elderly gentleman on my left, looked him in the eye, extended my hand, and poised my lips to proclaim peace over him, only to see him deliberately shut down his soul, scrunch up his shoulders, fold his arms certainly across his chest and turn away from me. It was as if the whole sanctuary was a mass of people offering each other cold glasses of refreshing water on a stuffy warm morning and the man on my left took his glass of water and threw it in my face! I couldn’t have been more startled! How could he so adamantly refuse the peace that passes all understanding?
Earlier that morning I had read an old familiar verse in a new translation, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” God knows our hearts, our anxieties. He isn’t perplexed by how we process our pain. He sees the ways we hurt and he longs to lead us through. As I watched my neighbor at St. Dunstan’s shut himself off from that peace of possibilities I wondered after his heart. What anxious thoughts was he battling? What hurtful ways was he accustomed to?
It further begged the question–have I ever purposely refused the poignant peace of Christ? Have there been times when I’ve tried to seal myself off from the intrusive Spirit of Jesus and the thick peace he promises? Sometimes it’s easier to worry. Sometimes the familiar chorus of my anxious thoughts gets stuck in my brain and it’s the only song I find to hum. I’m afraid the hurtful paths in me are easier– more familiar, more recognizable– to walk on than turning onto the everlasting trails.
Many times, if I’m honest, even this spring and summer, I’ve intentionally refused the powerful peace of Jesus.
I turned instead to the man on my right and shook his hand. His eyes lit up as they met mine and he spoke the peace over me. The woman two rows in front turned and stretched her arm toward mine, “the peace of Christ,” she greeted. On the other side of my sad somewhat surly strange pew-mate, his wife bowed her head forward, met my eyes with a combination of resignation, sorrow and redemption, and mouthed the words, peace of Christ. They slid over her clam-tight husband, brushing his soul as they passed, before they landed and settled on me. I prayed that peace, personal and powerful, would penetrate his pain. I prayed that same peace would land on mine as well.
O Peace of Christ come….Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer!