On Wednesday we had a new person at our service. A local, he had come in for coffee last week and, afterwards, came into the church. He explained that as he did he was aware of this church as a place of peace and he decided to return to worship here. He has other commitments on Sunday, caring for a sick friend, so Wednesday will be his time of worship.
In my time here I have welcomed many tradesmen, visitors and passers thru who have all said the same thing. This is a church of peace and warmth, of welcome and openness, of inclusivity and belonging. A recent visitor wrote to a friend, “This is truly an inclusive community, a community of the future. I will return. “ We also know that this not a perfect place and we are not a perfect people, we still have our disagreements, our history in relationships, our mistakes and errors, but it is interesting to note that our deep sense of love for God and for others shines over and above all of that.
It is more important to be known in such a way than for large numbers, modern worship or many social justice programs. It is more important for people to experience the peace of God than to be wowed by personalities, talents or power. The Christian story is one of peace, of being at peace, of allowing the peace of the one who came to live out God’s life in humanity to be visible, palpable and recognisable in the way we live and have our being.
Jesus was fully aware the disciples were about to be plunged into the excruciating experience of loss and grief, failure and disappointment and hopelessness and despair. His leaving them via the brutality of the cross would be almost too much for them to bear and no amount of preparation or discussion would make it bearable.
Somehow they had to understand that they possessed in their inner selves the capacity to move, go on, feel hurt and move. The despair of great grief often leaves us incapacitated, we feel as if everything has stopped, all has ceased to move, even ourselves. We are lost in a dark cloud and it doesn’t matter how much we try and move, to get out from under, we find ourselves stuck.
Jesus’ words were designed to remind them they already had with in them the necessary resources to move. The word peace does not refer to a place of no disruption or chaos, it isn’t about a fairy tale happily ever after ending or similar Hollywood misrepresentations of life. Peace is about an inner confidence that all will be well, indeed all is well, and all is well with life. Not that it is comfortable, enjoyable, happiness and light but it is simply ok to be in the midst of this place which makes us fearful, anxious, nervous and attentive, fully attentive to what is around.
Brian Stoffregen comments, “Whenever I see the word “peace” (eirene), I think that it needs to be interpreted first in a communal aspect — the way people get along with one another, rather than in an individual sense of inner tranquillity. However, the inner sense might be implied in this verse which goes on with the command, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” So it may have a sense of the inner feelings (of the community) in this verse.”
In a consumer world of individual entitlement, this understanding of peace as a communal experience is out of step with the conventional wisdom that you only find peace when all your individual inner needs are met. It is all about me. Yet we know that is not the case. Recent high profile ‘meltdowns’ by people who, for many reasons, have lost what gives them purpose and peace highlights the fragility of individuality and entitlement. We live conventional lives, lives attached to societies expectations of happiness and peace, and these conventions, rules, roles and models fail us especially when they are no longer relevant, when we have lost our position, power, relationships and roles by which we have maintained our own inner peace.
As a western society we have turned to meditation, mindfulness and contemplation as a tool to help us find our individual centre, but these too are of little assistance if they remain only as an individual entitlement. Meditation has, throughout both its eastern and western history, been communal. It has been about attaining a peace in line with the greater community of creation and all created creatures. While it may be practiced alone it is never alone. On my i-pad is an app called Insight Timer. I use it when I meditate on my own because it tells me how many other people are meditating with me at the same time all around the world. It reminds me that I am part of a large community and my peace is communal.
The inner feelings of the community seem to be the purpose of Jesus words. Families, communities and societies come unstuck when the inner peace of such collapses, when people speak into them panic, anxiety, fear and hopelessness, societies begin to fray and fall apart. Jesus is mindful the disciples are about to enter such a place. Will the community, which grew up around him survive such a tumult? He reminds them they have, at their centre, personally and communally, a sense of who they are and whom they belong to. In our modern world, Jesus’ community is challenged and runs the risk of capitulating to the prevailing conventional chaos unless we remain inwardly aware of the connections, the peace, which binds us.
A group of remote community artists visited New York to exhibit their artwork at a prominent art gallery. After a hectic week in the Big Apple, they returned to their remote community in central Australia. One stepped out of the car and took a deep breath, saying, ‘I feel sorry for the people of New York, they have nothing.’ As she looked around arms outstretched, “Out here, we have everything.”
Kind of says it all really.