“There is no peace without justice. Wherever there is brokenness, violence and injustice, the people of God are called to peacemaking.” (The PC(USA) Book of Order, W-7.4003, “Making Peace”
Intro: One of my favorite parts of worship is the “passing of the peace of Christ,” in which we affirm the forgiveness, freedom and wholeness received in Christ by sharing that gift of peace and reconcilation with friends, neighbors, even enemies. For me, it can be a powerful and sacred act–a time in which I feel God’s presence as I extend a hand of peace to those whom I love and those whom I may at times have difficult loving or even forgiving.
Over the past five years or so, I’ve discovered that not everyone in worship views the “passing of the peace” as a sacred act, an opportunity to initiate forgiveness and reconcilation with others just as God has done with us and the world. Whether in a traditional Protestant service (Presbyterian and United Methodist), youth conferences like Montreat or alternative/emergent services, the “passing of the peace” time often becomes more of a time for general chatter (which I’ll admit that I sometimes engage in despite my desire to do otherwise) like, “Hey, how are you? How was the weekend? Did you catch any fish out on the lake?”
While everyday conversation has its place in the church and our relationships as part of fellowship in the name of Christ, it seems odd to hear when we are actually being called to extend the peace of Christ, to look intently into the face and soul of the other and say:
“You are a beloved child of God who is forgiven for the sins you commit against God and neighbor. May God’s peace transform your life and be with you always.”
Somehow we as Christians seemed to have grown way from the intention of the “passing of the peace.” And I think the reason is much deeper than folks being introverted or not used to the language. We’ve lost the meaning of “the passing of the peace.” Sure, many can recite the definition of “the peace” or provide a theological explanation as I did earlier, but do we really grasp what it means to say the words “The peace of Christ be with you” out loud and to answer God’s call to emody those words in every aspect of our daily living.
In a world filled with so much animosity and hate, of war and violence and constant bickering and belittling that is often fueled by Christian voices (both liberal and conservative), I’m beginning to wonder if we truly understand what it means to be passers of the peace. So it is with that thought in mind, that I’ve invited several folks to share their reflections on how they’ve witnessed “the peace of Christ.” My hope is that this series will stir some much needed conversation and provide new understandings of peace passing and making.
Tonight, we’ll kick things off with a post from David LaMotte:
I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago on the great commandment. In the Luke version of it, a lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, and then answers his own question: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus gives him props for a good answer, and the questioner follows up with another question, “And who is my neighbor?”
In that sermon I was lamenting the fact that he didn’t ask instead “And what, exactly, do you mean by love?” It’s such a nebulous word. Are we supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings about everyone? …like them a whole lot? …treat them with dignity and respect? Is this a verb we’re talking about or a noun? Does faithfulness lie this side of our skin, in our feelings? Or is it about what we do?
Even before we introduce all the various takes on “Christ” into the conversation, we run into a similar issue with “Peace.” Are we talking about placidity? Absence of violence? Absence of conflict? Is there are a presence of peace that isn’t just an absence of something else?
Outside of the ‘peace of Christ’ concept, just examining the word ‘peace,’ I think we need to be careful with our semantics. We too often confuse peace with placidity. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the product and process of doing conflict well. Conflict is not the enemy. In fact, it is a useful tool in the search for what is real and true. None of us has all of the answers, or at least all of the right answers, so our ideas necessarily conflict. That’s not a bad thing. The question is how we manage that conflict, how we listen and struggle together to seek better ways and ideas.
In that context, I think the Christ did give us some wonderful tools and instructions for how to do conflict, among which are humility, non-violence and speaking truth to power.
I think the phrase “peace of Christ” goes a lot deeper than that kind of peace, though. I think it speaks more to a deep knowing that puts our daily lives and concerns into perspective.
Yes, I may be worried about presidential politics, injustice in the Middle East, melting ice caps, and those are very legitimate issues to worry about and devote my time and energy to as a child of God who is charged with actively loving those around me. In a personal sense, though, the peace of Christ has to do with understanding that I am profoundly, deeply, powerfully loved by the great I Am. Christ came to try to get the idea of that love across to us. I will live however many days I have soaked in that love, regardless of what trials I’m facing, and when my days are through, I will sink back into the deep ocean of that love and be welcomed home. Knowing that to be true, on the blessed days that I am present enough to remember it, lends me a deep ‘peace that passes understanding,’ the peace of Christ. And trying to find some response to that supreme gift leads me back to the work of actively loving my neighbor.
David LaMotte is a singer/songwriter/speaker based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, at least for the next few months. After that, he’s a Rotary World Peace Fellow studying international peacemaking at the University of Queensland, and is based in Brisbane, Australia. www.worldchanging101.com