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Pax Christi

November 25, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this Thanksgiving Eve comes from our epistle text, especially where Paul tells the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

The story goes of a young man whose fiancée had had surgery. She’d come through the procedure well enough, expecting a quick (though not painless) recovery, and had gone home that night to recuperate at her parents’ house. She made it decently through the night, but early in the morning, began to feel pain at the surgical site. This pain intensified quickly, to the point where she was crying out in anguish. Though her parents and soon-to-be husband had strictly followed the instructions on her pain meds, it hadn’t been enough. They had under-prescribed her ….

They rushed her to the hospital in order to get the pain under control as the regular meds, hastily and belatedly administered, had had no effect. Over the next four hours in the emergency room, the medical personnel gave her four doses of a pain medication seven times as potent as morphine … it had no effect. And the young lady was still in abject agony. The doctors puzzled, then decided to try something different: they gave her a muscle relaxant, hoping the muscles would relax enough to allow the pain meds to reach the site and do their job.

It worked, because for the first time that morning, the young woman became calm. Then she told her fiancé, “I feel kinda drunk.” Then she passed out. Then the alarms started going off, with the monitors showing her blood-oxygen levels dropping rapidly. The young man rushed to her side, trying desperately to wake her up. She wouldn’t. He pressed the “Call Nurse” button on her bed; the nurse rushed in, also attempting to wake her, but to no avail. The nurse called out in the hallway for help and a doctor and two techs rushed in the room, trying in vain to revive the unconscious young woman. Then … the young man’s heart sank as the heart rate of his betrothed also started to drop.

He stepped out of the now crowded room as the medical professionals worked feverishly over his beloved. Their world came to a screeching halt as they listened in horror to the sound of her EKG flat-lining. He stood helplessly with her parents, watching, waiting. All he could do was pray the hardest prayer he’d ever had to pray: “Father, You have placed this wonderful woman into my life. If You are willing, please don’t take her now… But if You are not willing, let Your will be done.”

After arguably the longest five minutes of his life, thanks be to God, the alarms eventually stopped and the monitors resumed their normal pulsing tones. The technicians walked out of the room, and the doctor soon followed, telling the young man and his future in-laws that they could go back in. He walked up to his fiancée on the bed, stroking her hair in joy and relief; never had he been so thankful or cried so freely. She opened her eyes and, seeing all the tear-stained faces in the room, asked what was going on. All he could do was chuckle, kiss her on the forehead, and tell her, “Don’t you EVER do something like that to me again!”

God had answered that young man’s prayers, and to say that he was thankful for the outcome is an understatement. … What if it had not worked out that way? What if God had chosen to answer his prayers ... by saying “No”? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history that supplications on behalf of the dying were not answered in the manner desired. Would he have said, with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”? Would he have been content and thankful for the time he’d had with her or would he despair, give up hope, become cold and jaded and thankless?

We can never know what could have been, but the question is raised in the minds of those going through incredibly difficult and trying times. Can you say, even in those difficult moments, “Thank You, O LORD”? There’s no doubt that there are seasons of life in which this phrase can be very difficult to speak. At the unexpected death of a loved one … loss of employment … a relationship that sours and withers. “Thank You, O LORD”? Sounds more like feigned optimism, whistling past the graveyard. You may even think that’s what Paul is doing in his letter to the Philippians, but you’d be wrong.

Though we don’t know for sure, it’s very possible that Paul was in prison as he was writing this “thank you” letter to the Philippians. They had supported him, prayed for him, provided for him through his missionary work in the Mediterranean, and Paul makes his gratitude known. He begins his letter, by telling them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” They’d been steadfast in their faith and support, partners with Paul in his ministry efforts to spread the Gospel of Christ Jesus, through good times and difficult times … and Lord knows there were plenty of the latter. In the course of his ministry, Paul had endured much suffering and anguish: beatings, imprisonments, stoning, being shipwrecked and adrift at sea, endangered by nature and sinful men, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, not to mention his “anxiety for all the churches.” And yet, as he’s sitting there in prison, he writes to his faithful fellow Christians in Philippi, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is how Paul is able to remain so joyful, so thankful, in the midst of squalor and ruin and violence and death. He knows that all temporal things are just that: temporal. It is not that they do not matter, but they don’t have the final say. All such things pass, but the forgiveness of sins won for us by the very same crucified and resurrected Jesus that Paul preached is truly universal. To those who believe that He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” they have the blessed assurance that, regardless of the absurd horrors and pains we will know in this life, THEY CANNOT TOUCH WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST. Nothing in all of creation, good or bad, can snatch us from the pierced hands of our Savior! This is why Paul writes, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

It is Christ who strengthens us to face the trials of living in this broken world, who gives us His peace in the midst of the cacophony by declaring to us, “YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN! LIFE ETERNAL IS YOURS! I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The peace of Christ would have remained with that young man, even if his worst fears had been realized and he’d lost the love of his life that day. The peace of Christ remains with all those who are enduring such trials, even as their eyes are being closed in death. The peace of Christ remains … because His holy absolution remains. On the eve of a rather muted, unfestive, perhaps even melancholy Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for. Christ has met our greatest need, given us His great gift of peace; thus, we sing with the psalmist of old, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.