The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Never before has the radical and prophetic power of these liturgical words struck me as it does in this post-Election Day liminal space. We often speak this greeting to each other in Sunday worship with an easy familiarity. Before Covid-19, we even embodied the greeting with a handshake or a hug.
The peace of Christ be with you.
And peace be upon you too.
These were and are words of care and community.
More radical than we imagine
These ancient words are also radical words, even provocative, if we speak them from our Spirit-depths into the Spirit-depths of others in the body of Christ, if we utter them in spirit and truth. This realization has washed over me anew this week as election results and social media posts have stoked fires of division that have been smoldering for days and months, if not for years and generations.
Questions related to this realization haunt me as we await the outcome of a contentious presidential election. What does it mean, in these difficult days, to share with authenticity and truth the peace of Christ? Who is my neighbor, and how do I offer sincere greetings of peace and harmony to those with whom I disagree with the very fiber of my being? How do I receive peace from those same people? How do any of us give and receive with generosity peace in the name of Christ and stay true to our most deeply held values and beliefs?
Confession, forgiveness, and passing the peace
In my Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, we greet each other with words and gestures of peace after we confess our sin and announce words of Gospel grace. We share in our brokenness, search our hearts anew for God’s grace in Christ, and then celebrate with each other the gifts of love and harmony that spring from our renewed and ever-enduring relationship to God’s Spirit.
Again, in these days when Christian communities are divided over so many public realities and political complexities, what does it mean to confess together, embrace God’s grace, and share Christ’s peace?
So send I you
Greeting one another with signs of peace has a rich history both within and beyond formalized liturgies. People in ancient communities often greeted one another with a kiss of peace. References to a holy kiss of peace appear throughout the New Testament. So, too, does the salutation, “Peace be with you.”
The biblical instance of these words that persists in my heart and mind today is found in John’s Gospel. After his resurrection, Jesus uses “peace be with you” three times when he appears to his followers:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this he showed them his hands and his side. . . Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus appears to his friends when they are afraid and hiding from the world. Jesus comes to them and shows them the bodily wounds he still carries into his resurrection life, and then he breathes peace into and over them. His next words are words of calling: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Beyond “howdy” and “how are you?”
Whatever else we make of this ancient story for these post-election days, we might hear in it a call to consider anew our liturgical actions of sharing peace within and beyond the body of Christ. More than token gestures of “howdy” and “how are you?” signs of peace are radical acknowledgements of holy friendship and community. Signs of peace embody Jesus’ radical resurrection act of breathing courage over his frightened followers and urging them out of their enclosed upper room, in spite and because of their wounds, to share radical peace and justice-making with the world.
To embody Christ’s peace – to share that peace with others – is, in a sense, to say “yes” to Jesus’ call. God gifts us with grace, and we are called – sent out – to build a world where justice, love, and peace are abundant for all people.
Radical friendship and courageous peace-sharing
I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. . . I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
John 15: 15ff
Beyond all hierarchies, Jesus, in John 15, calls his disciples “friends” and “commands” them to relate to each other as equal collaborators with God in the work of bearing fruit that lasts. Out of and into this friendship flows Jesus’ promise of peace in John 20.
And what is the fruit that we “friended ones” are to bear? What is the harvest of our radical friendship and peace-sharing? Life-denying and oppressive forms of relating to each other die on the vine while friendship – Jesus’ radical form of friendship – endures to transform the world.
So, as this election week ends and so much remains unsettled and uncertain, I pray for peace – the radical kind Jesus shares with his friends in John’s Gospel. I also seek courage and wisdom to pass this peace to my neighbors – some of whom now seem to me to be strangers – in such a way that I and we embody Jesus’ call to birth communities where love in all of its life-sustaining abundance flourishes.
A prayer for peace
God who breathed into firstborn soil the breath of life,
your Spirit exhales
and fragrances us–
our hiding places,
our bodies and souls
–with the honeyed aromas
of your mercy, justice, and grace.
Breathe on us now, O God.
our very beings
–so that in our living and working and worshiping,
we perfume your world with
your radical scent of justice-making,
your healing balm of kindness,
your life-restoring tincture of mercy.
Strengthen us for the journey ahead
so that we might be en-couraged–
have hearts expansive enough
and spirits wise enough
to breathe your radical peace
into those too-much-with-us wounds
that expose and weaken
the world’s weary bones.
God who breathed into firstborn soil the breath of life–
here and there,
now and then,
against all odds,
may we encounter
in each other
beyond all human understanding
Kiss us, O God, with that peace
and send us out
to kiss others–
In the name of Christ,
by the power of your Spirit.