Beyond Where Eagles Dare
"Where Eagles Dare" is the title of a 1969 movie where a small allied unit stages a daring raid on a Nazi castle perched high atop a mountain. But when I speak of "Beyond Where Eagles Dare," I'm referring to a 70's song by the Eagles entitled "Peaceful Easy Feeling." I'm speaking of daring to go beyond the peaceful easy feeling the Eagles sing about.
Our liturgy is filled with peace. We celebrate peace in song when in the Gloria in Excelsis we sing the angels' Christmas proclamation of "peace on earth." And in the post-Communion prayer we thank God for giving us peace in this Sacrament. In other places in the Liturgy we pray for peace. In the Agnus Dei we ask Christ the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world to "grant us Thy peace." In the Nunc Dimittis we ask, "Lordlettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." Not only do we celebrate and pray for peace in the liturgy, we actually get it. In the Votum I say, "Now the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." From the altar where the Body and Blood of Christ are I bestow peace on the entire congregation, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." And to those who have communed with that Body and Blood I say, "Depart in peace." Finally the last word of the liturgy is the benedictory words the Lord "give thee peace."
The first time visitor to our Divine Service who paid attention would come away saying, "That service is all about giving those people peace." Than why do we lack it? Why is the liturgy filled with peace and we aren't? I tremble at the political unrest and economic instability. The very earth herself seems as upset as I am. I tremble in my shoes; she quakes in her foundation. My stomach is nervous while she vomits forth oil and ash from hers. Things are little better in the church that I see. Synod spends money from restricted funds to pay for pet projects; it has embraced change as a way to attract people and equates growth with good. I'm not filled with peace. My heart races like the beating heart of a captive bird. I'm troubled like the cow that gets separated from the herd. I'm ready to crash through this fence or that brush to get back to a peaceful easy feeling.
Now we're back to where Eagles dare. They sang in December 1972 right as the Watergate scandal was shaking the country "I gotta peaceful easy feeling and I know you won't let me down." The rest of that line tells you what their peaceful feeling was based on, "because I'm already standing on the ground." Their peaceful feeling was based on a reality check, on low expectations. You can get a peaceful feeling from being a rugged realist. A hardened or a dead conscience can also give you a peaceful feeling. St. Paul speaks of those who get off the heaving high seas of life by shipwrecking their conscience. Others he says have their conscience seared by a hot iron. They have no fear of God's wrath or judgment either in time or in eternity. Why? Because their conscience doesn't bother them. Their hearts don't race like a captive bird because they don't feel they're in the divine hand of judgment. They aren't as skittish as a cow separated from the herd because they feel they are still in it.
The Eagles dared to rely on their peaceful easy feeling. You dare to go beyond it. Having a peaceful feeling is no guarantee that you actually have peace. I told you of that WWII Japanese soldier who refused to believe peace had been declared for almost 30 years. He had no feeling of peace although there really was peace. Contrast this with a WWII soldier who had a peaceful easy feeling and so strolled into the enemy camp. All the peaceful feelings in the world won't give peace when there is none. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak of what a grave sin God considers it for a pastor to declare, "Peace, peace where there is none." This what the ELCA does when they say homosexuality is not a sin to be repented of and LCMS pastors do when they knowingly commune those living together or having premarital sex. You may indeed have feelings of social, economical, political, psychological, familial, or personal peace, but all you really have is what the Eagles did: a peaceful feeling. Jesus invites us to go beyond where Eagles dare.
Jesus may or may not give you a peaceful, easy feeling but He alone made peace. In our text Jesus describes the peace emphatically as "My peace." It is based on His Person and Work, based on Who He is and What He did. Who He is, is True God and True Man. In Jesus God comes down to earth and Man goes up to heaven. In Him all that God is, is shared with a Man. But the incarnation, Jesus being True God from eternity and also True Man born of the Virgin Mary, doesn't make peace. No, it only means the One who can make peace has arrived.
Jesus established peace by keeping every commandment we break. Haven't you ever picked up something your child broke in carelessness? You raged, you burned, you muttered as you threw the broken pieces loudly into a trash can. But if there was no broken lamp, no pieces to pick up, where would the wrath be? The Man Jesus, being True God was able to keep the 10 Commandments perfectly. No broken tablets, no reason for God to be angry; no need to picture God enraged, muttering as He hurls your sins into the trashcan.
However, there is one flaw in this picture. We can't rewind the film so the 10 Commandments don't get broken. As we say in the Catechism, "We daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment." That's in the present tense. The page 15 confession of sins should be in the same tense. It shouldn't be, "justly deserved" but "justly deserve Thy temporal and eternal punishment." Regardless of what we say, your sinful nature knows it's in the present tense. It hides with Adam in the Garden because it knows it's naked before the holy, judging eye of God.
So it's not enough that Jesus kept the law as a Man in our place. Someone had to pay for the broken commandments. Someone had to face God as He stormed around the house picking up pieces. Someone had to appease, mollify, satisfy the wrath of God, and God the Son did. Although perfect and holy Himself, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the world, and God stormed, and raged, and punished, and damned Him till He was satisfied. In Jesus, God has nothing but thoughts of peace towards sinners.
Peace is not a feeling in your heart, but one in God's heart based on what Jesus did. In our text Jesus bestows this peace on you as a legacy and a gift. Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you." Stop focusing on a feeling you may or may not have. Focus on what Jesus says He actually leaves you, actually gives to you: peace between you and God. Rather than a bird held captive in the hands of an angry God, you are a bird set free, an eagle on the wing. Rather than a cow separated from God's herd you are a like a newborn calf let out of His barn to leap about His green pastures. Going back to the military illustration. In Jesus you are clothed in the uniform of God's friend; even more, you are clothed in the robes of His royal household.
This peace that can be left or given to someone like a physical gift or inheritance is beyond where Eagles dare, and it only comes by Jesus' words. This is lost by the insert translation. Jesus doesn't say, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching." He says, "If anyone loves Me, He will observe My Word." Jesus goes on to point out that one who doesn't love Him doesn't "observe not obey My words not My teaching." Then Jesus says the Words we hear are not just His but those of the Father who sent Him. So important are Jesus' Words, He promises the Father will send the Holy Spirit to bring to mind everything that He has said. See how central what Jesus says is? It reflects exactly what God the Father and God the Spirit say. You aren't to look for more, better, or different words than Jesus leaves you. You aren't to speculate, wonder, or think that there may be words from God beyond what Jesus has left you.
Jesus' words tell us He leaves and gives peace in a way the world does not. The world gives peace as a wish, a hope, a feeling. Jesus actually gives and leaves peace. After highlighting how important His Word is and how His Word is the Word of the invisible God too, what does Jesus say? "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." These words are how Jesus leaves and gives the peace of God that He won for you by living a perfect life and dying a sinners' death. You don't have to be, you don't need to be, God's doesn't want you either troubled or afraid no matter what you feel, the world tells you, or the Devil threatens you.
Push Jesus' words home. Dare to go beyond the Eagles who only had a feeling of peace because they had low expectations. They didn't soar as eagles; no they never left the ground. You soar lifted by the Words Jesus has left and given you; words of peace not war, words of peace not judgment; words of peace not trouble.
The Devil, the world and your flesh will march an army of doubts, worries and fears into your life. They will highlight why it is only reasonable, natural, and expected that you be agitated, upset, un-peaceful. You send, not your feelings, not your hopes, not your faith, against such foes. You send Jesus' Words. "Though you say, I need to be at war, Jesus has left me peace. Though you only give me an upset stomach and a palpating heart, Jesus has given me peace."
Jesus bestows peace by His Word, both by His audible Word and by His visible Word, the Sacraments. Peace was poured over you by Baptism. Peace is put into your ears by Absolution. Peace is what you eat and drink when you eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus in Communion. Even if you don't feel peaceful, even if you don't feel God's peace, You have peace in the Words, Water, Body and Blood of Jesus. Dare to go beyond the peaceful easy feeling of the Eagles; soar like an eagle on God-breathed Words that His peace yours as surely as you've been baptized, absolved, or communed. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixth Sunday of Easter (20100509); John 14: 23-29