Sharing The Peace
Lately, I've been thinking about the part of worship we call "sharing the peace." You know what I'm talking about, even though it's a relatively new element of our liturgy. Only since 1978, the year the GREEN hymnal came out (that's the one BEFORE the one we use now) have we been "sharing the peace" every Sunday. It happens right after the prayers, but before we begin our communion liturgy. One of the pastors usually greets the congregation, saying, "The peace of Christ be with you always," and the congregation responds, "And also with you, " and then -- and here's the controversial part -- people in the congregation turn to their neighbors and SHAKE HANDS with them and say something like "peace be with you." I think it's still controversial for some people and in some places because it seems jarring, perhaps, to be praying and thinking about God, as we are supposed to be doing in worship, and then suddenly to shift our focus and greet one another. Also, there is nothing int he Bioble really about "shaking hands." It's not a Biblical gesture, at least not that I kow of.
But the words, "Peace Be With You" of course, ARE Biblical. In fact, they are from today's Gospel lesson. They are the first words spoken by Jesus to his disciples when he meets them on Easter evening. they are huddled together in a locked room -- they have heard Mary Marydalene's testimony, "I have seen the Lord," but they don't know yet what to make of it. So they are still afraid and hiding out when Jesus walks right through that locked door, and greets them with, "Peace be with you." Then, instead of shaking hands with them, he shows them his wounds: his hands and his side. And he tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I sent you."
"Peace be with you" is a greeting, in fact, but it's more than a greeting. To greet someone with "Peace" is not just the same as telling them to "Have a nice day." It's more than that. Because it's not just any peace that we are bringing to one another -- it's Christ's peace. When we share the peace, whenever we say "Peace be with you" -- at the right time -- we are sharing the peace Chrit promised when he told his disciples, earlier in John's gospel, "Peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you. I do ot give you as the world gives." He also tells them, "do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. It's a message the disciples needed to hear again: remember they were locked in that room. And it's a message that we need to hear again today, "Peace be with you." Christ peace be with you...
So what does Christ's peace -- the peace we share with one another -- look like? That's a fair question. And the first clue to answering it is in the next sentence. "He showed them his hands and his side." Jesus shares peace -- and shows his disciples the marks of his crucifixion -- as if to say, "here is the cost of my peace." And "Here is what my peace looks like." Jesus' resurrection didn't magically erase all of the scars he received on the cross. They remained, for all of the disciples fo see, and they remind us that the peace Christ shares with us is a peace won through love and sacrifice, a peace won not through fighting but through dying, a peace that champions the poor and the weak and the vulnerable. And when Jesus shows his disciples his scars, he reminds them that they will be sounded as well sometimes. To share Christ's peace is to risk sharing our weakness, our poverty, our scars, with others.
Sara Miles is a woman who grew up as an atheist. Her grandparents had been missionaries, but her parents rejected religion, and taught her to reject it too. At some point in her 40s she starts attending a church, sharing Holy Communion, even though she's not quite sure why she is drawn to it. She only knows that she is hungry -- hungry for bread, and for something else, too. She has written ab out her experience of becoming a Christian as an adult in a book, Take This Bread. And she says in her book, "the Christianity that called to me, through the stories I read in the Bible, scattered the rpoud and rebuked the powerful. It was a religion in which divinity was revealed by scars on flesh. It was an upside-down world in which treasure, as the prophet said, was found in darkness...." That is the kind of peace Christ share with us.... treasure in the darkness... scars on flesh... not "believe in Jesus and you will be successful", but "God will be with you in the struggle.... and bring you out resurrected, but with scars." "Peace be with you," Jesus says. And it's a strange kind of peace, "not as the world gives," and not as the world promises. -- not absence of conflict but peace in the midst of conflict -- not a peace that keeps us sequestered and locked away, but a peace that sends us out to be with others.
So that's just what Jesus does next. He sends his disciples out into the world: "As the Father has snet me, so I send you," he tells them. So the peace that we share here in this room is not for us alone. No -- what we do here today is practice -- we practice reaching out for one another here, so that for the rest of the week, we can continue to reach out to others with the gift of peace. What we do here is just the first step -- beforewe share Holy Communion we reach out as brothers and sisters and say that we are connected and reconciled to each other through Christ's gift of peace. But it doesn't end here, or with us. It ends out in our community, and in the world. Jesus wants ut to get up and get out of our locked rooms and share his strange and wonderful peace with the world...
I heard a story recently about a family that was touring Europe. They had been warned all along their journey by their tour guides to watch out for the gypsies, to guard their purses, and to leave their hands at the sides. They had been warned not to trust people along the way, to watch out for themselves. One day they were touring a cathedral. It just so happened that during the tour there was also a Mass going on. But the tourists were being led around the outside of the sanctuary, looking at the art and the architecture while the people were worshiping. all of a sudden one of the family members was accosted by someone, speaking as trange language, and sticking out her hand. She remembered all of her warnings, and kept her hands at her side, and even back away. She was a little afriaad, I think. It wasn't until a little later, and upon reflection, that she realized that the woman she had encountered was trying to share the peace with her. "la paz de Dios," she was saying in Spanish. She had left the safety of the sanctuary, and was trying to share the peace with the tourists who were visiting. It was a courageous gesture.
That's what Jesus is telling his disciples, when he says to them, "As the father has sent me, so I send you." He's telling them to get out of the safety of their locked room, to put aside their fears, and toshare the peace of Christ with their neighbors. This is not a safe activity -- sometimes they would be rebuffed, sometimes rejected, sometimes ridiculed. But still he calls them -- as he calls us "As the father has sent me, so I send you." He sends us out with his resurrected life, but still with scars. He sends us out to bring peace -- his strange peace -- to the world -- where there are many different languages and people and circumstances and where we might even learn to recognisze and receive Christ's peace from a stranger.
But what does that peace look like? What does Christ's peace look like to YOU? When you reach out your hand to your neighbor today, and when you reach out this coming week, it's not a bad question to ask yourself. What does Christ's peace look like -- to you? What kind of peace does someone with nail-scarred hands have to offer us? When Sara Miles -- the atheist turned Christian -- asked that question, she realized that Christ's peace looked like bread to you. She realized that she was hungry -- for bread, and for Jesus -- and so she developed a passion for feeding people. She set up a food pantry in her neighborhood -- and others in many other poor neighborhoods in her city. And she met so many other people who were hungry -- whether they were rich or poor, young or old -- people were hungry.
What does Christ's peace look like to you? Perhaps it's paying attention to the sick and the weak, the oldest and the youngest among us. Perhaps it's a community where people trust each other and reach out to learn each other's languages and look out for one another. Perhaps Christ's peace looks like -- or osunds like "la paz de dios" to you. Or perhaps it's protecting children, taking communion to shut-ins, advocating for health care. Whatever Christ's peace looks like, it's meant to share.
So, turn to your neighbor right now -- and perhaps not just your neighbor, but someone you don't know very well -- and share "the peace of God' with them....
And know that as you reach out, just a little beyond your comfort zone, that the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds united in Christ Jesus. Amen