I recently read a remarkable memoir, Fish Out of Water, by Eric Metaxas. It is told in an informal conversational style, full of anecdotes of his growing up in the Greek Orthodox community in Danbury, Connecticut. One of the threads or themes particularly resonated with me.
His church life as a boy did not claim his love, did not call him to believe. When he does experience God, it is an answer to a yearning not fulfilled. Through a series of miraculous events, he finds his way as an adult to the evangelical stream of Christianity in America, for it is being born again that recreates him and claims him as one of Christ’s own. His joy in these pages is nearly tangible.
It often happens that established, successful churches dull our belief with their familiarity and routine, and we have to leave our childhood church and return to a different stream of Christianity. Probably like many things we do, ritual can become hollow and automated. Prayer can become words memorized and unfelt or even unheard. And yet ritual and prayer, when cultivated in love and adoration in the worship of God, add richness and beauty to a sacred conversation.
I was raised in the Presbyterian church. At some point in the 1960’s as a young adult I lost my faith, but returned as an Anglican, having been won back by the apologetic reasoning in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I was luckier or more blessed than many in that my time in the agnostic/atheistic desert (essentially my college years) was short, and God found me and claimed me again. I do recall those years, however, as painful ones, full of sadness and confusion, for life had no meaning without God.
God was everything, and I had lost him. But he had not lost me.
And with my return to the Church and to life in Christ, I returned to moral law and peaceful order. For only with an objective and true authority can we know what is right and what is wrong. This is the righteousness of God’s rule in our world and the universe, a righteousness we cannot own without the Resurrection. This righteousness I wrote about in my recent post at American Christian Fiction Writers, “Resurrecting Righteousness,” how Christian storytellers are called to remind their readers and the world that there is a better way, a righteous way, a way ordained by God, for us to live with one another.
With these thoughts running through my memory of the week, this morning’s Gospel sounded a sweet note. For as the resurrected Christ appears to the fearful disciples, he says, “Peace be with you.” This phrase is repeated throughout our eucharistic liturgy. In some Roman Catholic parishes the peace is passed one to another in the pew, with a handshake or a nod (maybe not presently with the pandemic). These words remind us of the great reward of being claimed by Christ and of our claiming Christ: peace.
And how we need more peace today. Perhaps our time is no different than any, but peace seems particularly illusory. We fear to speak or we will be demonized or cancelled by those who disagree. We fear rampant crime as police are defunded and defamed. We lock ourselves in our homes, fearful of virus, but also riots and revolutions.
Peace. I recall in the 1960’s folksongs with their call for peace, not war. They thought peace would come if we did not defend America in war; peace would come if drugs were plentiful and morality was ignored in the name of free love.
They were wrong. For it was a devil’s bargain, an illusion. Peace comes from righteousness, from heartfelt trying to act right, from admitting wrongs, from experiencing God’s will in our lives. Peace comes from the loving authority of our Creator, as found in Scriptures and the Church. Peace comes from Christ breathing upon us in our baptisms and our eucharists and our evening prayers.
The Epistle lesson today was almost harsh. St. John writes, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
I have found that truth, if it is truly true, makes sense. One strand weaves into another to make a perfectly woven tapestry. This morning it happened again. Mr. Metaxas’ account of God speaking to him in dreams and through people and events, in miracles, bringing him home again, upheld and verified the righteousness of God, his goodness, his personal intentions for each of us in his moral universe. And this morning we received God’s peace, the result of rebirth and righteousness.
And so we pray that we all are reborn, again and again, redeemed again and again, returned to Our Lord to be remade, again and again. We pray that we know the peace that passeth all understanding.
And we pray for our country, that America once again be a land of peace, a land of rebirth, and a land of righteousness, that America will return to God.