Sermon Archives

Sunday, April 8, 2018
The Second Sunday of Easter (RCL Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Let All Around Us Be Peace

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we greet one another with a sign of Christ’s peace.

We each probably have different feelings about it and ideas about why we do it. For some it might be a wonderful time to greet friends and loved ones. I remember when I was church shopping as a young adult and wasn’t a member of a church, I dreaded that part of the service. I felt awkward because I didn’t really know anyone in the community, and in that moment I couldn’t hide my newness in that place.

The sharing of the peace during the liturgy has roots in scripture. There are passages in the Bible that affirm our identity as peacemakers, as in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus blesses the peacemakers (Matt 5:9). There are also passages that refer to the practice of sharing the peace, such as Romans 16:16 when Paul urges the community to “Greet one another with a holy kiss”[1]

In my research, I learned that it is an ancient practice that has gone through much evolution over time. The earliest Christian documents that reference the passing of the peace is found in writings about baptismal liturgies.

In 2nd and 3rd century Eucharistic liturgies those preparing for baptism were dismissed before the peace because their kiss was not considered holy. It was only after baptism and the laying on of hands and anointing by the bishop that new members of the church were allowed to participate in the peace.[2]

Jumping ahead to the late medieval period, the kiss reflected the hierarchy of the church. The celebrating priest who first received the kiss of the Lord by kissing the altar, would kiss a paxboard (a wooden plaque bearing the image of a saint or of the crucifixion) which was then passed to each member of the congregation at the altar rail.[3]

In our current Prayer Book, the peace is now where it was commonly placed in the ancient Eucharistic services, marking a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament, and of course, everyone is invited to participate.

In the same way that church practices to exchange the peace have changed over time, the meaning of the peace in the liturgy can also be seen from a variety of angles.

St. Augustine in the 4th century reflects that the kiss of peace was a physical reflection of what our hearts should be doing towards our neighbour. This holy kiss represented the cornerstone which joins two different entities together. St. Augustine was concerned with the divisions between the circumcised and uncircumcised, the Jews and the Gentiles and sees the kiss of peace as the intersection of these parties at the cornerstone.[4]

Isaiah, the Psalms and Job all reference a cornerstone and Paul in the New Testament reads Jesus into those writings.

Two weeks ago, when we celebrated Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled nor afraid, moments before his arrest. Our passage today brings us to the other side of his death. The disciples are cowered behind locked doors in Jerusalem, justifiably terrified of being arrested given what had happened to their leader. Yet Jesus tells them multiple times: “peace be with you”.

Where were the disciples to find peace in the midst of the unfairness of the Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial? Where were they to find peace in the midst of their grief, confusion and fear for their own lives?

Tradition has it that of the eleven disciples, only one, St. John, was not martyred - all the others were killed in often horrifying ways.[5] Jesus himself felt fear and loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane as his death loomed over him. Clearly he is not promising the disciples that they will be spared suffering, or that their uncertainty about the future will be resolved.

In April 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to Dharamsala in India, to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. During the visit, they took the opportunity to look back on their lives to reflect on the question: “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?”

Douglas Abrams wove the week long conversation together in a book called ‘The Book of Joy’.

At one point, Abrams observes that both the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama had faced or were facing oppression and exile and yet are two of the most joyful people on the planet.[6]

The Dalai Lama replied in his simple and profound way, that if he is worried about something and he can do something about it - then he does something about it. If there is something that he cannot do anything about - then what’s the point in worrying about it?

The joyfulness and peace that the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama bring to their lives, they explain, are in part a result of the suffering they’ve endured. In their conversation they discuss the 8 pillars of joy - one of which is acceptance. The Dalai Lama reflects that there are different aspects to any event.

He says: “For example, we lost our own country and became refugees, but that same experience gave us new opportunities to see more things. For me personally, I had more opportunities to meet with different people, different spiritual practitioners, and also scientists. This new opportunity arrived because I became a refugee. If I remained in the Potala in Lhasa, I would have stayed in what has often been described as a golden cage.

So, personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. Therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities. So, it’s wonderful. That’s the main reason that I’m not sad and morose. There’s a Tibetan saying: ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.’”[7]

The Dalai Lama was able to see both the tragedy and opportunity of his exile.

Our Gospel story today reminds us that Jesus can get behind the doors of fear and anxiety that we cower behind and breathe the gift of peace, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, into our lives.

Our invitation is to trust that God’s grace is present, available, and sufficient for the moment.

When we offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace, we recognize Jesus as our cornerstone, the one through whom we are reconciled and at peace.

And perhaps in this simple ritual, we also offer one another a blessing. The language of our greeting: “Peace be with you” is an invocation, a calling forth. In this greeting we invoke the Holy Spirit, expressing our desire for the gift of the peace of Christ to encircle each other. We ask the Holy Spirit to offer peace to each heart gathered here, and as we disperse from this place we carry that peace with us into the many communities that we participate in.

To close, I’d like to offer you a blessing. Feel free to hum along.

Peace before us,
Peace behind us,
Peace under our feet.
Peace within us,
Peace over us,
Let all around us be peace.

Christ before us,
Christ behind us,
Christ under our feet.
Christ within us,
Christ over us,
Let all around us be Christ.
 


[1] http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/109399_14998_ENG_HTM.htm

[2] http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/109399_14998_ENG_HTM.htm

[3] Black, K. (2008). The Reconciling Body and the Passing of the Peace. Liturgy, 24(1), 26-32.

[4] Black, K. (2008). The Reconciling Body and the Passing of the Peace. Liturgy, 24(1), 26-32.

[5] http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/killing-jesus/articles/how-did-the...

[6] https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/533718/the-book-of-joy-by-his-h...

[7] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/excerpt-the-book-of-joy-the-dalai-lama/