Passing the Peace, Pastor Fred
We love passing the peace! Right after the Prayers; before the Meal! It’s, one of the benefits, of a smaller church. Or as we like to call ourselves, an ‘intimate’ congregation – which is not just a euphemism, but holds true, both because of who we are, and the space we inhabit. Our sanctuary is small, by Chicago standards. The pews are close together. And instead of, long and narrow, we’re more in-the-round or equal-lateral. And with our wrap-around-balcony, the intimacy continues in our undercrofts with our Prayer Spaces and Gallery.
But sharing the Peace can be intimidating, especially for our first time guests, and probably looks like a bit of a free-for-all. People crossing the isles, shaking hands, hugging or sharing the kiss of peace, not just with those close by, but with everyone!
It’s shocking initially! And if you came to worship and would rather be anonymous, this joyous peace sharing can be rather disruptive, and not feel very, peaceful, frankly, more like a 5th inning stretch! A chance to get up and move around!
I’m wondering too, how did it feel during Lent? For those who attended one of the 5 services in Lent, what was it like when we shared the Peace around the font, in the back Gathering area, in the beginning of the service? Did it have a different feel?
What does ‘The Peace’ mean? What is it for? Why do we have it in the service?
When it was evening on the first day of the week, our Gospel begins, that day that Jesus had appeared to Mary in the Garden, the disciples were still locked in the house they had used for the Last Supper. And it was locked up tight! Remember, the disciples had fled from the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. And were nowhere to be found, when he was crucified on Good Friday – except for John, ‘the disciple Jesus loved,’ who was there with Mary, Jesus mother.
When he was on trial, where were they? Peter was out in the High Priest’s courtyard and denied knowing Jesus, three times. When it was time to carry his cross, where were they? Jesus was exposed and all alone, bearing his burden. When he was crucified between two criminals, dying a shameful death, where were they? When he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, where were they, as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus stepped up and made sure he at least had a proper burial?
Apparently, they were mostly holed up in the house, hiding behind locked doors! John says they were still there on the 3rd day, the day of his resurrection, because they feared the Judeans. Which is understandable, because if the Judeans had managed to get their Roman overlords to condemn and crucify Jesus, might they not also do the same for his leaders, the Disciples, who were next in line?
Yet, the Disciples didn’t run back home to Galilee. They at least decided to stay, to see what would happen next. They were cautiously fearful, maybe even appropriately hiding out, just to regroup and plan their next step.
Maybe they were still of the mindset that the Messianic new age would come through armed confrontation? The risen Jesus, or maybe one of them, would rise up to lead them, like a new King David? But why then had Jesus told Peter to put his sword away at Gethsemane, and angrily asked them all, why they still didn’t understand his arrest, suffering and death, was all part of the plan of his Cup, the New Covenant?!
And then, just this morning, there was Mary’s testimony - she had reported that she had seen the Lord, in the Garden outside the tomb. And she also shared Jesus’ instructions with them: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Which, admittedly, isn’t much to go on! What did that mean exactly? Yet, just that he was alive, had risen, was amazing!
And that’s when, suddenly, Jesus came and stood among them – though the doors were locked. And Jesus has a new word, in addition to Mary’s, that he brings: “Peace be with you.” And after saying this, he shows them the nail holes, and the spear wound in his side. And seeing the marks of his execution! gives them a strange sense of, calm, and joy! It confirmed, that this was their crucified, but also risen, Lord! Haleluia!
And a second time, Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. ‘Of whomever you forgive the sins – their sins are forgiven to them; whomever you hold fast, and embrace, they are held fast.’
(cf. Commentary on John 20:19-31, Mary Hinkle Shore, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3619)
Now, they can’t wait to tell Thomas, who was out getting lochs and bagels, or whatever, and completely missed it. But, you know, how when a friend tells you they saw the greatest concert, or a movie, you thought would be just ok, and they think is the #1 event of the year – and you just have a hard time sharing in their excitement, because you weren’t there? I think that’s how Thomas may have felt. So he’s sort of resentful and cranky, but wants to see what they have seen, in order to have a chance at the joy! they’re all of sudden, basking in. What was it, Thomas wonders, that made them change so dramatically?
And sure enough one week later – which is why we always have this story on the 2nd Sunday of Easter – Jesus returns and Thomas is with them. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says a third time! And knowing that Thomas wants to see the wounds and touch them, Jesus shows him, and invites him to touch his side. But suddenly, that seems not as important as seeing what he’s seeing, experiencing the risen Jesus – and all he can say is, “My Lord and my God!”
‘Peace’ and ‘forgiveness,’ is what the wounded Lord offers! The Peace of Christ, is what changed the fearful, and guilt-ridden disciples, into Apostles and leaders, on fire, to go out.
When just a week ago, they were stuck in the old ways of vengeance, of winners and losers, and afraid for their lives, plotting how to survive and strike back – Jesus, the wounded healer, brings them a message of radical forgiveness and peace.
Is this just the peace of a simple greeting – or a deeper peace – a total acceptance of the disciples, with all their flaws and fears? Is it a greeting of peace, like, good-morning, or have a nice day – or is it a deeper peace, of healing and reconciliation?
The disciples had fled Jesus at his most needful hour, had betrayed and abandoned him, had pulled out their swords, as if Jesus was the next Barabbas or Bar Kochba. And still Jesus came in peace, a powerful peace of forgiveness.
I will remember your sins no more, the prophet Jeremiah had said. Not that God lost God’s memory! No, but your sins will be to me as forgotten, says the LORD, in order to completely forgive you, and offer you a chance to start over, begin anew.
This is the message, finally, that seemed to dawn on the disciples. God’s radical grace and love, was the sharp sword, the Word, unsheathed from Jesus’ New Covenant, that they were meant to take up, for the sake of the world. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus tells them, “so I send you,” with the gifts of forgiveness and Peace!
Can a small handful of followers, transformed into leaders, change the world? What would it take? What weapons, and what tactics, have we received? Are we good enough? Well, were the disciples? Are we committed enough? Jesus consecrates us saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit; Peace be with you!”
Let us pass this Peace of Christ to one another, here in this Sanctuary, to our neighbors, and the world.