And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding…

This has been the tried and true standard “go to” benediction of choice for generations. And for good reason. It is, after all, awfully hard to do better than Paul himself at his best.

This familiar phrase comes from the fourth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.  I have always found it somewhat odd that the writings of Paul seem to be at their most passionate, their most poignant, their most hopeful, when his situation seemed the most hopeless. At the time he wrote this affectionate “love letter” to the fledgling church in Philippi, Paul was in a Roman prison, an enemy of the most powerful government the earth had ever known. There was no earthly reason to be of good cheer. No earthly reason.

But as bound and broken and confined as Paul’s body might have been, his spirit was wonderfully and wondrously free. He gives to his friends in that small town on the east coast of Greece the rather silly advice to “Have no anxiety, about anything…” (Phil. 4:6.) Rather, he urges them to try a different approach, to simply pray about “everything,” and to “let your requests be known to God.”

If if they could but do that, says Paul, to honestly, fervently, deeply pray to our Loving Creator about their anxieties (and I can only imagine what all they had to be anxious about!) Paul promised them that a marvelous thing would happen:

And the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Centuries later, this “marvelous thing” has comforted and strengthened and sustained generations, and his words have become the fondest of parting wishes at countless worship services.

Two stories. Both true…

When I was three, my older brother died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 10. I remember Tommy a little, but not much. Blessfully (I think), I don’t remember anything about his death.

Decades later, after we had moved her into assisted living, my mom and I were having a very rare conversation with about Tommy’s death. I shared with her that I had long wondered how she even functioned after losing her first-born. How did she and my dad go on, not just to survive after Tommy’s sudden death, but to raise that beautiful boy’s younger sister, younger brother (me), and two more sisters yet to be born?

“How did you do it, Mom?” I asked her. “I don’t know, Michel,” she told me, “I really don’t… What I remember is this phrase kept coming back to me. Over and over, I kept hearing the phrase, ‘The Peace of God that passes all understanding…’  PEACE. God’s peace. Beyond understanding. Over and over…”. She looked off in the distance for a second.

And then she looked right at me, and I never will forget what she said. “And I wrapped that phrase around me like a cloak!”

Somehow, some way, it got her through.

My Dad's notes in Philippians.
My Dad’s notes in Philippians

Second story. I’ve written in this blog before about the day my Dad died. The part I left out occurred the next day, when the Rector of my parents’ parish was scheduled to come by to talk about Dad’s funeral, and the scripture and hymns we might select. As it so happened, I had read that “Peace of God” passage from Philippians just a few weeks earlier as a lector at my home church, and had heard Buechner lecture on it the previous year,.  I thought maybe my dad might approve, so I ventured back to my folks’ bedroom and eventually found my Dad’s Bible. (Folks that knew him well would not be surprised to learn it was rather dusty.) I flipped my way back to the fourth chapter of Philippians.

Thinking that my dad might approve of this passageAnd there — circled and underscored, with arrows and squiggly lines for emphasis — was that very passage I was seeking.  In my dad’s very distinctive handwriting, he had penned the entire four verses on the opposite page.

I’m not sure such things pass all human understanding. I’m damn sure that it passes mine.

7 thoughts on “And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding…

    • Oh, Tina, your comment means so much. Thank YOU! (After I saw your comment come in, I ventured back to my study at home — and sure enough! — was able to find Dad’s Bible. I snapped a photo of it that page and inserted it above. So, again, thank YOU for the inspiration. And oh, yes… GO BIG RED!)

      Like

  1. Mike, I have such clear memories of your parents, of your family, from our Redeemer days. They were always so kind. Your story brought tears to my eyes, good ones. Maybe the marriage supper of the Lamb will be a bit like the pancake suppers we used to have “back then”. Such good memories. I think we all meet in this life so we can recognize each other in the next. I look forward to it. Peace to you, brother.

    Like

  2. Thank you Ann. You know the Rector in question that came over to the house that day was Phil Purser. I’m not sure he remembers the markings, but I’m pretty darn sure he remembers Dad! Such good memories, indeed…

    Like

  3. Gracias Mike. I love to read your stories. Some years ago I fretted because my children have not been very close to me. The usual me wanted to really reprimand them. I was upset. But instead I followed Diosito’s guidance, pray constantly. My daughter is now very close. I still pray about my son. I relied on His peace, chose to show more love, patience, keep waiting to experience what Diosito will do with all tjis in my future whether on earth or in heaven. I am at peace leaving it all to our Father who gives us so much.

    Like

    • You are so very kind, Alicia. Thank you for reading, and even more for sharing it with others and most of all for your good comments. It truly gladdens my heart to learn that someone has received something worthwhile from something I’ve written. (I say “I’ve written” — but so often, I don’t feel like I’m writing as much as “going with the flow” if that makes sense.)
      Thanks again for “passing the Peace” in such an encouraging and supportive way. You inspire me to keep at it.
      You keep at it, too, especially regarding your son. Prayers are powerful things.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s