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The Deepest Peace of All

December 5, 2011

Long ago people in a community were looking for the perfect picture of peace. They announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.

The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled.

As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd.

A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.

Then a judge uncovered the last painting, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace?

A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. In addition, black clouds exploded with lightning from a storm that was lashing out in all its fury. But in the lower centre of the painting, there was a little bird that had found refuge in the cleft of the rock. Safe and secure in the midst of the turmoil of its surroundings, it rested content and undisturbed . 

As they gazed at the scene, one by one all of the judges and viewers agreed that this painting was the perfect picture of peace, for it showed the deepest peace of all.

This is the kind of peace that Jesus gives us.

(from my sermon at our December 4 Services; the story of the painting of peace is adapted from Berit Kjos, A Wardrobe from the King, (Victor Books, 1988), pp. 45-46 (alt.); the painting in this posting is “Peace in the Midst of the Storm” by Jack E. Dawson)

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This brings to mind two well-known reflections on Jesus as our cleft in the rock, our peace:

The first is part of Julian of Norwich’s description of the tenth of the awesome revelations she had received in 1373:

With a glad countenance our Lord looked at his side, rejoicing as he gazed. And as he looked, I, with my limited understanding, was led by way of this same wound into his side. There he showed me a place, fair and delightful, large enough for all saved humankind to rest in peace and love. I was reminded of the most precious blood and water that he shed for love of us.

[Clifton Wolters, Tr., Revelations of Divine Love (Penguin Books, 1966), p. 100]

The second is verse one of “Rock of Ages,” penned by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady in 1763:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Let the Water and the Blood,
From thy riven Side which flow’d,
Be of Sin the double Cure,
Cleanse me from its Guilt and Pow’r.

Traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a clergyperson in the nearby village of Blagdon, was travelling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he scribbled down the lyrics to the hymn while waiting out the storm in safety. The cleft in which he is thought to have sheltered is pictured below. Another point of interest to us Canadians is that Toplady’s great-great-great-great-great grandson is Thom Sharp, the star of the Fountain Tire commercials on TV.

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