While it was still dark, I walked into St. Augustine’s Chapel Ash Wednesday. “A Peace that Passes Understanding” was the communal reflection for the Lenten season, and so I wanted to begin Ash Wednesday in silence before the first folks arrived for ashes at 7. All of a sudden I was jolted as I heard yelling in the fellowship hall. Two young men who participate in the overnight young adult homeless program at our chapel were in an argument that was escalating quickly. Within seconds, one of the young men picked up a big baptismal bowl sitting on the altar and hurled it into the wall smashing it. Tables were overturned and chairs were launched. In the few minutes it took to separate them and regain peace, everyone in the chapel was visibly shaken. a small glimpse into what must be experienced by groups following the wake of sudden violence was opened up a crack.
That disturbing outburst was a reminder of how fragile peace can be. It was a powerful lesson in how the violence of poverty, racism, trauma, mental health, and fear are poised to tear through any of the false walls we believe peace builds to shield us from the truth. Peace does pass our understanding. Our fragile and finite minds cannot grasp the depth and hope of peace that keeps our hearts in the knowledge and love of God. The peace that passes our understanding isn’t an idealistic quiet mountaintop setting; it is the peace in the midst of a wilderness of tables overturned in the temple, of disciples bearing crosses, and in the midst of loving in the face of violence and oppression. The peace that passes our understanding is a proclamation of faith as we strive for justice grounded in love. The peace that passes our understanding is what carries us through the wilderness with courage, humility, and direction.
The only writing I have from my father, who was an episcopal priest and died when I was five, speaks powerfully about such a peace. The writing is simply a tiny slip of paper that fell out of his prayer book that my mom gave me at my ordination. On that piece of paper are written the words, “In the shadow of his cross may your soul find rest.” In other words, while in the midst of our struggle, may you find peace. My father’s words remind me that the great peace of Easter begins on Good Friday—in the shadow of the cross.
It was in the shadow of the cross where the disciples witness Jesus’s faith and forgiveness. There must have been a deep peace that surpassed her understanding that grounded Mary Magdalene and John to face the uncertainty, fear, and potential violence. While she was still living in the shadow of the cross that Easter morning, she was steady enough to gather the herbs and begin the journey. She headed out prepared to anoint a dead body, not because she thought he was risen. But in the face of injustice, oppression, violence, she was willing to confront the soldiers with her meager offering to anoint the body.
The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “While it was still dark….” The shadows of the cross were long as the sun was just rising on Jerusalem that Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief guiding her to the body. And that single act of faithfulness is enough to carry her with a peace that passes understanding to the source of love.
The peace that passes understanding leads her through despair, leads her to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love. The shadows of the Crucifixion became the grounding of a deep peace that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the upheaval, violence, and fear that keep us from experiencing peace.
It sustains Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake. It catches her when she falls at the feet of love resurrected. That peace is strong enough for all of that--to lead her to be the first preacher and to offer generations to proclaim peace in our own times of struggle.
During this season, I have glimpsed at such peace that underlies the story of Easter—that peace is our deepest truth. A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a large healthcare company conference about resiliency and women’s leadership. When I finished speaking, I invited two of the powerful women graduates of Thistle Farms to join me on stage and talk about what gives them strength and how they experience healing. We were sitting on three, big oversized chairs with individual mikes like a living room. As the first graduate spoke, tears began to pour down her face. I did not know it at the time, but she was going through a difficult personal tragedy.
To the executives and overachieving workforce, she said, “I have no words right now, but I know I need to show up and keep the faith.” She described how in the midst of the chaos she was in, she could trust herself and the community and keep going. Her strength, her tears, her faithfulness were the living embodiment of how we can live into this deep and abiding peace. She was the truth that when we can walk and live in peace, we can have a clearer memory, more strength, and the freedom to weep. There was such grace and truth in her witness, that the executives sitting in that room wept with her. They recognized themselves in her, and she showed them how in the midst of life that can be unfair, hard, and frightening, peace can give us courage. She, like Magdalene herself, invites us to the truth of peace, the strength of peace, and the freedom of peace, even if we don’t understand it.
Today is the day to proclaim peace as a statement of faith. We don’t have to wait for the mountaintop. We can proclaim it in the valley. We don’t have to wait to proclaim it in the courtroom. We can proclaim it on the streets. We don’t have to wait until the paths are straight. We can proclaim meandering it in the desert.
That peace, offered by the Prince of Peace, even in the face of trauma, broken hearts, and shattered baptismal bowls, is enough to keep us going. We are sons and daughters of peace. Peace has been etched on prayer cloths for centuries across the world and in our hearts. We are surrounded by peace and given it as the first sign of the Holy Spirit who breathes it into us. That is the ancient hope that carries us to love. The Easter story preaches to each of us that when we keep believing in peace, it carries us beyond grief. The stone has rolled, the shroud has fallen and we are free. We can proclaim peace with all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. Peace carries us through the wilderness to the garden. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain. It’s not hard to imagine Magdalene, graduates of Thistle Farms, you, me, or a young man that smashes a primal element in the sanctuary—searching for peace with such longing that we search for life in a tomb. With just a glimpse of love’s fragile truth we can proclaim peace in the shadow of our crosses and live into the hope fashioned on the first morning of creation. We can be at peace in the truth that love lives. Such deep peace allows us to make our song at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”