Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
I John 4:20
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
II Corinthians 5:20
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Ephesians 2:13, 14
The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed.
Paul David Tripp
Before you do the work of reconciliation with another, you need to restore communication with yourself.
Thich Nhat Hanh
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.-Matthew 5:23-26
I’m told that this passage from the Sermon on the Mount provides scriptural basis for the exchange of the peace in our liturgy. In that liturgy, the sequence is clear. Before we can come to the table to receive bread and wine, we need to come to reconciliation with each other. So we exchange the peace before the offertory.
Covid has made us rethink this part of the liturgy, not only how we exchange the peace and remain socially distant. Covid has also made us think about what it means. That’s a good thing. What used to involve handshakes, hugs and even the kiss of peace has morphed into a long distance wave or bow or peace sign. This sits just fine with some. I remember a story about the reintroduction of the peace in one church some years ago. (It hasn’t always been part of the liturgy.) An earnest young parishioner turned to a mink-clad matron in the same pew, extended his hand ready to exchange the peace. She looked down her nose at him and said: “Don’t even think about it.”
What I’ve been thinking about this week is the fact that we exchange the peace of the Lord, and not our own peace. It’s the peace gracefully given to us by God. If I was exchanging the peace of Jay, it would probably be extended only to those I like, or those who agree with me on issues. I’m guessing it might be withheld from those who don’t fit in those categories.
But one of the distinctive (and occasionally annoying) things about the community that follows Jesus is that we don’t get to pick who gets in, who we are called to serve alongside, or who turns up in the pew with us. We sure don’t participate in a community of agreement. We enter into a community where there are people who drive us nuts, people who push our buttons, people who view life differently. Often those are the people who have the most to teach us.
In this sermon, Jesus teaches that his followers (you and me, folks) are to do the work of reconciliation with all of those folks, even and especially the irritating ones. Invariably we are going to hurt each other, as we note in the confession when we declare: “We have not loved neighbor as ourselves.” It doesn’t say if we have done that. It assumes we have, and that we do, and that we will. Our work is cut out for us. It involves taking inventory and making amends, thinking about ways, witting and unwitting, that we have caused injury, and asking forgiveness.
There is also injury that comes in interactions that leave us resentful. As we reflect on those who have injured us, we may refuse to forgive them, a violation of Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s prayer and elsewhere. When that happens, in a way we are inflicting injury on our relationship with those folks. Injury evokes injury. When we savor resentments (they can be quite delicious), treat them like trophies (we can regard them as precious), we are injuring others, and souring our soul.
Between the injuries we inflict and the resentments we harbor, it’s a wonder any of us ever make it to the altar. In all of our relationships, I hear Jesus saying: Be reconciled. It matters, because our relationship with God, including our worship, is hampered by the brokenness of our relationships with each other. Jesus tells us that the two can’t be separated.
That’s why it’s important that we exchange the peace of the Lord, and not the peace we muster on our own. Our own capacity for peacemaking is too shallow, too compromised. As the letter to the Ephesians says, Christ is our peace, breaking down dividing walls. We are asked, week after week, to remember that we are always on the receiving end of amazing grace. As we await the arrival of the prince of peace, think about the ways you can exchange the peace with those in your life, the ways you can be reconciled. How might you approach that this week and in this holy season?
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