Love, Peace, and Fear
Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2013
Grace Episcopal Church, Charleston
Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22:5
Certain moments in life fill us with emotions and reactions beyond the measure of our capacities to contain them. We find ourselves full, somehow, to overflowing. I think of the time that Annie told me she was pregnant with our first child. I remember the moment that our second child emerged safely from serious surgery, at two and a half years old. The bedside of a holy death can become a temple of wonder and praise, for I have known that place, too. The sound of a special voice – long absent – can elicit such fullness, as can a view of nature unparalleled in its beauty. Certain particular moments in life do indeed fill us, beyond the measure of our previous capacity. They are holy, and they are good.
It is in that spirit that we should pray the words of today’s collect: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding...” (BCP, p. 225). Further, several “such good things as surpass our understanding” present themselves for us to consider today. And so, with the inadequate means of mere words, let us attempt to deal with things that we admit at the outset we cannot understand. For, these things are essential matters of the faith we hold dear ... the faith which is eternal life.
First of all, there is love. Today’s collect continues its path of wonder this way: “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire...” (BCP, p. 225). In those words we affirm that love exists which bears fruit beyond anything we can want or imagine. Surely, such love surpasses our understanding.
Then, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time that he will not be with them any longer. He speaks words of assurance to them ... but these words are much more about comfort and matters of the heart than they are about rational thought. Indeed, they surpass the disciples’ abilities to understand. “Peace I leave with you”, he says, “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” (John 14:27).
Thus, even as our Lord speaks of peace – his peace – he also mentions fear. Fear, that is, which is so basic an enemy of faith. Fear, also, which attempts mightily to combat love. Fear bottles us up, within ourselves, in a never ceasing attempt to protect and fortify and arm ourselves against the world. Yet, in spite of fear – even in the face of fear - Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you....Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Today’s collect and Gospel, therefore, put us face to face with three of the most basic human responses to the experiences of life – love, peace, and fear. These are realities that can fill us with emotion and reactions beyond the measure of our capacity to contain them ... even to the point of overwhelming us. In addition, although we know the truth of these realities experientially, we cannot understand them rationally.
On the journey of life, each one of us encounters love, peace, and fear. And the ways that we respond in those encounters will determine the health of our spiritual lives, as well as our emotional well-being. It is unsettling that things we do not ultimately understand are so very, very important in our lives. But that is the nature of faith, is it not? As the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Faith, then, includes things which lie far beyond our ability to understand them.
The Bible – and our biblical heritage – have a great deal to say about relationships among love, peace, and fear ... relationships that are central to our faith. Crucial to this matter of faith are words found in the First Letter of John: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (4:16b - 18).
Therefore, basic to the life of faith – and to life itself – is the interplay among love, peace, and fear. The ways that those realities form themselves within the fabric of our spiritual makeup will influence our faith in fundamental ways. Love, peace, and fear are like building blocks in our spiritual DNA.
The reality of the words from First John mirror the experiences of our lives, even though rational understanding continues to elude us. Such words offer a good way to conclude and summarize this reflection. We are no closer to understanding, for rational explanations of peace, love, and fear do not do justice to the profound experience of them. Nevertheless, in terms of experience, we know it is true that “love casts out fear”. And, further, we know that the result which follows is peace, profound peace, which surpasses all our understanding. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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