Passing the Peace

Written by Joel on May 20th, 2011

May 1, 2011
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

Sharing the Peace is reconciliation.

What causes conflict and war? There are certainly plenty of examples to consider even in our present day. What causes war? Greed, power, injustice, hatred, retaliation, even religion. But what causes peace?

We are celebrating Holy Communion in this Easter season and this gives us an opportunity to contemplate the meanings of the sacrament which Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed, and told us to “do this.”

You may have noticed that on communion Sundays the prayer time after announcements is slightly different. On a non-communion Sunday we offer prayers for our joys and our concerns and the Lord’s prayer. But on communion Sundays we add a prayer of confession, and the passing of the peace. We say to each other “peace be with you” in the same way the risen Lord offered peace to his disciples in the gospel we read this morning. But why add these two, and why add them on a communion Sunday? First we are called to consider our sins. This is done privately – between each of us individually and God and we receive pardon. Then we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” of course knowing that debts refer to sins as well. And then we do it in the passing of the peace – actually forgiving one another, actually reconciling.

I understand that many of you are unfamiliar with this liturgical practice. It is inspired from the sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught the multitudes a greater understanding of God’s law. He says “You have heard it said…you shall not murder…But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement…Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.”

Anger or conflict within the body of Christ is no good! It is such a problem that Jesus says stop what you are doing and be reconciled.

A fellow pastor told me about an incident at her church when two people had an ongoing argument, a rather old one. It was to the point that neither one remembers why they were mad in the first place, now they just know they are mad. They tried to avoid each other as much as possible – they didn’t serve on any of the same committees, made sure to show up at dinners at different times, they certainly didn’t sit together at church. At this church people go up in groups to the altar rail and receive as a small group. These two folks could normally avoid being in the same group, but there was this one low-attendance Sunday which made the pattern unpredictable. The two men found themselves in the same communion group, even knelling beside each other at the rail. One of them realized this, thought the other was too close in his personal space and shoved him over – right there at the altar! I bet these two men did not offer a sign of peace that morning.

When we observe the passing of the peace, we are taking Jesus call to reconciliation seriously. Passing peace is not a friendly hello or good-morning, it’s not a time for chit-chat, to talk about the weather, to comment on someone’s new outfit, nor to remind someone about an upcoming meeting. It is an opportunity and a call to make peace with one another.

We are a church family…and families who love, will be families who fight. That’s fine, and expected – but peace must come. When the peace time comes, consider if there is anyone within this church family you are angry with, or who may be angry with you, go to them and offer peace. Even better, make peace before Sunday morning. Say “peace be with you” and respond “and also with you.”

We have the sign of peace just before communion because we are about to eat a meal together, and in this holy meal we declare our unity as the body of Christ. If we approach the altar without being reconciled, without being one we are making liars out of ourselves. Besides, it is just really hard to share a meal with someone you are angry with (expand?).

On Easter evening the disciples were huddled together, locked up in a house because they were afraid. They heard about what happened to Jesus; they heard what happened – not saw. Because none of them picked up their cross and followed Jesus to death, they all abandoned him. One denied him three times, another disciple we remember betrayed him, three of his closest disciples could not even stay awake with Jesus to pray on the night he was betrayed. They were afraid. They were ashamed. They heard the good news from Mary Magdalene that the Lord is risen, but they locked themselves up in a house.

[aside on "doubting" Thomas- wanted what everyone else had, and not kicked out even though he did not believe]

It was here in this locked up room that Jesus made is first resurrection appearance to his disciples. “Peace be with you.” Jesus offered reconciliation to his disciples. He could have (maybe even should of) been angry with them, cast them off, not even of shown up – but Christ, when he offered his disciples peace, he forgave them. They were speechless. They knew they had wronged their Lord, and yet he offered peace!

And so as we approach Holy Communion today, let us been one; let us be reconciled. We offer each other peace because Christ first offered us peace.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Agellius says:

    I have been looking at your various posts on communion. In one of them you stress that it nourishes us. In another you talk about how it makes us a community.

    But what else does it do? In your May 1 post you touch on it, perhaps inadvertently. In the context, you were explaining the sign of peace. You say this is inspired by the Sermon on the Mount:

    “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.”

    This is certainly true: You should be reconciled with your brother before you … what? Receive communion? Not exactly. Rather it’s, be reconciled with your brother before you “offer your gift”.

    If you get to the *altar* and realize your brother has something against you, leave your *gift* on the *altar*, and be reconciled before *offering* your *gift*.

    It’s interesting that the sign of peace is something that Catholics also do …. : )

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