“Nothing Can Our Peace Destroy”

A few weeks ago as we recessed at the conclusion of our 11 a.m. service, the final line of the recessional hymn (567, “Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us”) jumped out at me: “Nothing can our peace destroy.”

This often happens to me as we pray through the liturgy; in fact, it seems like there’s at least one thing every week that jumps out at me in the moment, that I hadn’t noticed before, even though I am planning our services ahead of time. Sometimes it’s a line from one of the prayers that, for whatever reason resonates in my heart especially strongly that week based on circumstances in my life. Sometimes it’s noticing an intersection between the ordinary of the service (the parts we pray every week) and the propers of the day (the parts that vary from week-to-week, specifically the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel). Sometimes, as on this Sunday, it’s from the musical part of the service, a line from a hymn or anthem, or even how one of the organ voluntaries captures without words, beyond words, the themes or motifs of the day. This is why it’s important that we approach the liturgy with what theologian Simon Chan calls “active participation,” with our hearts and minds engaged in every moment, “leaning in” to the words being prayed, joining our prayers with the prayers of the church, letting words, music, and silence carry us into the presence of God.

This particular week it was that last line of the recessional hymn that jumped out at me. “Nothing can our peace destroy,” because that’s so often not Christian experience. In fact, I would say many of us often feel like our internal experience of peace is destroyed, or diminished, or absent. That contrast, between the words we were singing, and experience, gave me something to ponder. If “nothing can our peace destroy,” and yet we feel it often is, why is this so? What does this mean?

As Christians, we are offered the gift of peace in Jesus Christ. He stands before us on the tempestuous, storm-tossed waves that so often rage roundabout us and within us saying, “Peace, be still,” even as he did physically on the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago. He offers us not just any peace, but, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” (from the benediction, BCP 84, quoting Philippians 4:7) What’s more, Christ himself is our peace. As the Prince of Peace he embodies perfect peace as he comes among us. Christ is the peace that nothing can destroy.

And yet we so often find our peace destroyed. When we find our peace destroyed, diminished, lacking, it means that we are attempting to find peace in something other than Christ as the foundation, source, and basis for our peace. It may mean we are attempting to find peace in our circumstances: in financial security, in a relationship, in our good health, or any number of things other than Christ. All of these things have the potential to disappoint. All of them eventually will. And if our peace is based on them, we will find it destroyed.

When we find ourselves feeling like our peace is destroyed, it is an invitation to reflect on what it is we are basing our peace on, other than Christ, and to find it again in him. As we continue this reflection through time, do any patterns emerge? Is there anything in our lives we habitually attempt to lean on as sources of peace? With this awareness in mind, we refocus our attention on Christ as the source of our peace. He alone is the peace that nothing can destroy.