Peace-Sharing (Beyond the Handshake)

 

Last week we looked at prayer as something that weaves through and is integral to all of our worship.  Sharing peace operates in much the same way.

It’s present in one form or another – literally or as an attitude – throughout our liturgy.  We know it, of course, by what we do after the prayers and before the offering is collected and the table is prepared.

But I want to help us think about what sharing peace looks like besides that point in worship.

What do we discover when we share peace?

*Proclaiming reconciliation as something just as necessary as daily bread.

This is a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry on earth.  He is clear about what is the greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.  Notice that there’s two dimensions to that love: not only loving your neighbor, but loving yourself.

This isn’t a narcissistic, self-absorbed kind of love – rather, it is accepting that you are a beloved child of God.  That’s a type of reconciliation in itself, and it’s what we mean when we talk about being reconciled to God.  It’s important to remember that it is not OUR action that does the reconciling, but God’s.  Our action in Confession and Forgiveness acknowledges that God always moves first towards us and forgives, loves, and reconciles.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves means that we understand the loving and reconciling movement of God is not only towards us, but towards every person.  That is the basis for reconciliation with one another.

(Note: I want to make it clear that in the case of toxic/dangerous relationships or situations, reconciliation is a far more complicated matter and cannot be either assumed or forced.)

*Forgiveness as the ultimate unity of grace and truth.

“Truth-telling” is a term that is being used quite a bit these days.  As we utilized it in discussions in seminary, it meant speaking truth about situations but within the context of community.  In other words, we know it is important to be honest and truthful in our words and actions, but we also know that a sense of care needs to accompany that truth.  Scripture calls it “speaking the truth in love”.  Unfortunately, that in itself can be used as a weapon to advance one’s own interests.  The community aspect is critical.  If a community can make space for truth-telling in a healthy atmosphere, that space continues to expand to make room for grace – God’s gift of love and forgiveness to us in Christ.  I see it more as an ongoing process than a one-time event.

*The ability to enter into community.

By sharing peace, we initiate the creation of making space and room for our life together.  This happens all the way through worship, from the time we arrive at our worship space to when we leave.  It’s a way of living fully into our sign out front that proclaims “all are welcome.”  True welcome, real hospitality, always involves sharing – not only material things but our existence.

This doesn’t just happen when everything is going well.  When we share a peaceful existence regularly with others, we discover how deeply that communal existence goes when we need support in difficult times.  When we share peace regularly, we have words “at the ready” for the times when we don’t know what to do, and we have actions when there are no words.

 

What skills do we develop when we share peace?

*Skills of admonition and truth-telling.

As I mentioned above, this is an ongoing process, and one that has to be accompanied by care and love.  Whether it’s in community or one-on-one, if we frame this learning within the context of sharing peace then we establish a gracious and caring framework first.

*Skills of forgiveness.

These are probably the hardest skills to develop, but they are critical in all of life.  This is distinct from “forgive and forget” which can keep us from the learning that comes from life experiences.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget something – it means we release that thing’s ability to have a negative impact on us.

*Skills of ongoing cultivation of relationships.

A couple of Sundays ago we had “name tag Sunday” where we put our name AND our favorite vacation spot on the tag.  I watched folks circulate a bit more during sharing of peace, and I heard lots of conversation afterwards with people who got to know one another based on a shared favorite spot.  When we understand “sharing peace” more broadly, it opens lots of possibilities.

*Skills of dis-empowering systems of oppression by peaceful means.

This past weekend, Elie Wiesel died at the age of 87.  Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and the author of Night that recounted his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  His life’s work became speaking against oppression and indifference – working to peacefully dismantle oppression.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi emphasized non-violent, peaceful resistance as the means of disempowerment of oppressive systems.  I also think of the actions undertaken in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu convened the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Through a peaceful venue of truth-telling, space was made for reconciliation.  It has been a difficult road, to be sure, but the significance of a starting place of peace cannot be overstated.

*Practice of virtues of mercy, forbearance, honesty, humility, patience, and courage.

These might not come to mind on Sunday morning when we share the peace.  However, when we take that sharing out into the world, we are called into a vast array of places and situations to be a voice and presence of peace.  We practice on Sunday to serve through the week.

Jesus reminds us in scripture, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are to “first be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  Bringing an offering for the work of the church in the world is important, but just as important is face-to-face, interpersonal connection – in other words, RELATIONSHIP.

Sharing peace helps us learn to build relationship and community here as a community of faith, and then do likewise outside our walls.  It is the active realization of, and our deep belief in, the potential for our prayers to take hold in our world; to live what it means to say, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

I came across this quote from Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro that for me states it clearly:

“Hospitality is essential to spiritual practice.  It reminds you that you are part of a greater whole.  Putting others first puts you in the midst of life without the illusion of being the center of life.”

It’s another way of expressing what Pastor Laura preached on Sunday: being centered instead of balanced.  If we are centered in Christ, then we are in the midst of life by Christ’s freeing us to love and serve the neighbor.

It takes “sharing the peace” to an entirely new level.

 

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