Profound eh? Just what you were waiting all day to read, right? The gem of wisdom that is going to help you wrap your mind and soul around a taste of God’s Word this weekend, don’t you think?
Sorry. Best I’ve got today. That little exhalation. A sign of weariness and perhaps of soupcon of exasperation. I’m just back from Annual Conference. It was a surprising combination of the usual tedious institutional folderol and profound moments of grace and joy and deep connection. I even found myself enjoying lunch with the bishop and other fellow clergy. Whoa there, such things just don’t happen, do they?
Maybe it is more than weariness and exasperation. Maybe there is a hint of contentment. Can such things be? Contentment is a rare commodity, often frustratingly just out of reach. If I can just get this done, if I can just accomplish those goals, just acquire these items, just save this amount of money, master these skills, then, maybe then, perhaps then I might find a sense of contentment. But in the meantime ... work to be done, miles to travel, burdens to bear, struggles to endure, and on and on and on. Contentment isn’t a word that speaks into our experience these days. Too hectic, too shallow, too empty, too hungry. Except then, maybe sometimes, once in a while, like a breath, like a cool breeze on a hot day, it is just there. From somewhere.
John 14:23-27 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
And then ...
John 20:19-29 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Two words, same word twice: peace. “Peace I leave with you.” “Peace be with you.” Sounds the same really, not much to distinguish between them. Except life and death. The first was on the threshold of death. The second was in the glaring light of the resurrection. That’s what separated them. The last breath. “He breathed his last,” Luke says. “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He didn’t speak it, he cried it, Luke says. In a loud voice, a voice choked with pain, a voice gasping for the breath that wouldn’t come because of the suffocation caused by hanging on a cross, somehow in agony he pushed himself up on the spike driven through his feet, straining the two nails through his hands, so he could catch enough breath cry in a loud voice. Then, Luke says, he breathed his last.
Except he didn’t. He breathed again. He breathed some more. “Peace be with you,” he breathed on them. Breathed peace. Receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit he commended to God. The Spirit returned to us, in a breath, peace.
Breathe on me. In the heat of the moment. In the struggle of living and loving and finding our way in a complicated world. Breathe on me. Give me peace. Not a peace that resolves every issue. Not a peace that fixes everything that is broken, that removes responsibility or covenant, that answers every question that removes every doubt. Breathe on me that I might find peace enough to continue on the journey on which I find myself. Peace enough to work toward resolution, peace enough to mend the broken or that allows me to limp with grace and confidence. Peace that breathes through my responsibilities and covenants, peace that lifts up and binds together. Peace that cast out fear. Perfect love - peace - casts out fear.
Where does it come from, this peace? Is it self generated? Are there disciplines we can practice, rituals to perform? Well, yes, there are rituals - corporate prayer, sacraments of grace. Yes there are disciplines - meditations that call us to worship, study that drives us deep into the living Word. These and more. But no. We don’t create this peace. We receive it. Like a breath. That comes from elsewhere. From beyond us. The rituals and the disciplines are designed to shape us into vessels better able to hold onto the peace that breathes into us. It is a gift, a joy, an unexpected encounter, a cool breeze that fills the sails and sends you across the horizon into new worlds of love and joy. A promise from one side of life is fulfilled from the other. A description, an image, a story told to a hurting and hungry heart becomes a wind of change in a new world.
He breathed on them. Peace be with you. Receive the Spirit of holiness, of ordination, of mission and ministry, of love. Receive it and then love. Love from the strong center of peace, from the contentment of faith, of putting your hands in the source of love and joy and peace. Lean into it, trust it, receive it.
Sigh. He breathed on them. On you. On me. Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. ... Breathe on me breath of God till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with the fire divine. Breathe on me. Sigh.