When parishioner Bill Eckhof died a few years ago, he had wisely left requests for his own funeral. One of the hymns he requested was #661, They cast their nets in Galilee. I was caught by surprise because Bill was a regular 8:00 worshiper and I did not recall us singing this hymn very often, if ever, at the 8:00 service. While it also appeared in The Hymnal 1940, I never thought it was a well-known hymn. Nevertheless, I’m so thankful to Bill because he led me to look at the hymn with fresh eyes and now it is a hymn that I deeply love myself.
The text, by William Alexander Percy, reminds us that following God is not always easy. Percy, taking after his mother, was a devout Roman Catholic, but grew up in Mississippi and later attended The University of the South in Sewanee. Neither of those locations was an easy place to be a practicing Catholic at the time. Percy’s father, a successful planter and farmer, served a short stint as US Senator from Mississippi and was largely defeated due to his progressive views on race relations. The emerging Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South constantly attacked him.
The last verse of Hymn #661 states: “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.”
That’s not exactly a rallying cry to win over converts. Percy reminds us that following God does not really bring about peace, there is much hard work involved. This is not unlike farming and planting; it takes lots of work to get the final product.
And, we need only to look at the examples of the original Twelve Apostles to know that following Christ is not an easy road:
Simon-Peter was martyred in Rome under Nero, crucified upside down.
Andrew was scourged and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer longer.
James was beheaded under the direction of Herod Agrippa.
Philip was thrown in prison in Egypt and crucified.
Bartholomew was crucified and/or skinned alive.
Thomas was martyred in India by being rammed with a spear.
Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia.
James (James the Less) was beaten and stoned by persecutors.
Thaddaeus was crucified at Edessa.
Simon was killed for refusing to sacrifice to the sun god in Persia.
Mathias, who replaced Judas, was burned to death.
And John was the only original disciple to not die a violent death, dying instead in exile.
Crucifixion of Saint Peter (Caravaggio)
The final phrase of Percy’s hymn “Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God” calls upon a different type of peace from what the world thinks of as peace. God’s peace isn’t just a lack of war or strife, but shalom: a just peace – one that “passeth all understanding” in the words of the Rite 1 blessing.
I’m so thankful when the saints who have gone before are able to continue to teach me. Thank you, Bill, for drawing this hymn to my attention. May Bill’s soul, and all of the faithful departed, forever rest in God’s peace.