The priest, in this case me, stand before the congregation at the end of worship to offer a blessing. By then many of the congregation are already checking out. You can almost see the cartoon bubbles popping up over their heads: “Where to have lunch?” “The choir was good today.” “What kind of socks are Stewart wearing today, and his t-shirt gotta check out his t-shirt.” So the minds of many wander. The traditional blessing given starts like this: May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His son Jesus Christ and etc.
Peace that passes all understanding. This phrase is at least rooted in part from the Gospel of John (14:27) wherein Jesus, predicting his own death offers assurance to those that love him and that he loves. He does so with these words: “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.” In this day and age nothing could or can be more elusive. “The peace that passes all understanding…” Does this mean contentment with what we have; perhaps but likely not. Does this mean some sort of blessed existence that somehow avoids the toils and snares of a busy world; perhaps but likely not. Does this provide us with a deep contemplative place away from the world; perhaps but likely not. Why? Because it simply does not stack up with the reality of being human; being in a community; being around others good and bad.
So, what might this peace be? It is certainly rooted in relationship, as that same Gospel goes on to say, a profound spiritual connection with the created and creator. It transcends our individual concerns because it, peace, is so large so big so encompassing. It is so large that it cannot be measured or understood in comparative terms. By this I mean, “I feel at peace today because the sky is blue, the temperature cool, and all things are right with the world (in my life).” But as we saw the first weekend of Jazz Fest the weather can change and with it our mood. So this kind of peace is not referenced by our mood which is often regulated by weather, environment, genes, and hormones; oh and occasionally libations. No this is a permanent state of being.
Once a man asked each time we met for over a year, “Bill, I keep asking God for the peace that passes all understanding and I am still restless and unhappy; my life is just in the pits.” Clearly he rejected any real notion of the peace that passes all understanding by continually looking inward and judging his state of being by his environment or perhaps ignoring signs of clinical depression and seeking treatment for such. He wanted that magical “WOW” moment and he wanted it for a lifetime. In some way I suspect all of us want what he wanted. In some way all we really need is peace.
Reflect for just a moment on the feeling of peace. If you do what you may discover is that it comes with some senses of: security, belonging, quiet, safety, self-worth, identity, and perhaps a bit of love of things around us. In short, we have a safe place.
According to the beloved disciple John there is a place for all of us in this thing we call The Kingdom of Heaven. It is equally clear that The Kingdom of Heaven is not removed from this place but is a part of this place, time, dimension, and space. So much so that according to the Gospels: ‘do you not know that you are so loved that the Father has even numbered the hairs upon your head’-intimacy with the Creator; ‘do you not know that I go to prepare a place for you’- relationship with the Creator; ‘do you not know that my Father’s house has many rooms and one is prepared [JUST FOR YOU]?’The Gospels and teachings of the one that I follow, Jesus, are quite clear that there is space for us – all of us not just an elect; nor just the ‘righteous’ nor the pious or prattling pontificating puritans – though there is room for them as well…but there is room enough for all of us.
It comes with a catch you see. The catch lies in the rules of Jesus and most dominantly in his proclamation and final commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus met and greeted those that he encountered; he was not patronizing nor was he a push over. Jesus sent authentic love into the world around him pushed some to give up those things that separated them from having a place at the table. He scolded those that abused and even a city wrought with malice and anger and divided we wept for, “Oh Jerusalem Jerusalem . . . I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
The Peace that passes all understanding is clearly rooted in being in that “place” that divine presence that is always with us. It is in going about the business of being present to one another as a body of spirit and faith; it is always knowing that we are neither alone nor forgotten. That “place” is open, waiting, and safe. That place need only be accessed by participation in the grand march, the cotillion of heaven and natures dance with us. A song goes like this:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness (read social justice)
And all these things shall be added unto you
The Peace that passes all understanding is “the place at the table” join it – don’t reject it – let it be a reservation for you that is standing and open and available. Find your place at the table for you days, like mine, are numbered. When you sit at table with our friend, as he calls himself, Jesus and his community you will find the peace that passes all understanding. It is that PLACE where you may forever be you.