Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 04/28/2019

Some of you remember those carefree days when sharing the peace was not part of the liturgy. The peace was part of the ancient liturgy of the church, actually it was a kiss of peace, but as some point, I don’t really know when, it disappeared and for most of us it came back when the Lutheran Book of Worship, the green hymnal was published in the early 1970s. I was in college at the time and didn’t go to church except when I went home but when I did and there was this shaking hands with people thing in the middle of the service, I didn’t like it; it made me feel uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

But…here we are, almost 50 years later and we’ve survived and we’re still doing it although I suspect that if sharing the peace had been left out of the new hymnal a few years ago there wouldn’t have been a whole lot of complaining. It is however, what is known as a “may” rubric.

The rubrics are the little red words in the hymnal that provide instruction, words that you probably don’t pay much attention to, but there are “is” rubrics, things which must be done as part of the liturgy, and there are “may” rubrics, things that are optional. The rubric on the Peace is that the beginning of it, me saying “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” and you responding, “And also with you,” that’s an “is.” The rest of it is “may,” “The people may greet one another.” So we don’t have to do it but I think pretty much every church does, some with great enthusiasm, some still kind of gritting their teeth through a fake smile.

Part of the problem with the peace of course is that the Northern European, Scandinavian people who have made up the bulk of Lutherans don’t tend to be extroverted, touchy feely types. Jokes like, “How can you indentify a Finnish extrovert? He stares at your shoes instead of his when he talks to you,” jokes like that are funny because there’s an element of truth to them.

Another part of the problem though is that I don’t think the reason for sharing the peace has ever been well understood, thus causing it to feel more like intermission or the seventh inning stretch, a little break between the sermon and Holy Communion. However, I don’t come here to bury the sharing of the peace, I come here to praise it, so…allow me to try and provide some understanding.

Sharing the peace goes back to the words of the Risen Christ to his disciples in today’s gospel when he appeared among them in the house where they were hiding. This text is always read on the Second Sunday of Easter and Doubting Thomas tends to be the main focus, but there’s a lot more in this text that is worthy of mention, including “Peace be with you.” So let’s mostly give Thomas a rest this year and talk about these words of Jesus.

When Jesus appeared in that locked room, the first thing he said was, “Peace be with you.” At first, it might just seem like a standard greeting of respect, an example of good manners and in fact there are places in the Bible where that does seem to be what it is. For example, at one point David instructs his men to go ahead of him to meet Nabal, a rich man, and to greet him with the words, “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.” The greeting was not well received by Nabal who was surly and mean, but that’s beside the point. It was still a greeting of respect. Jesus also used it as a greeting when he sent his followers out in pairs into areas he intended to go and told them to go house to house with the words, “Peace to this house.” Here too it does seem to mostly be a polite greeting.

Especially in John’s gospel though, this greeting of peace takes on new and greater meaning. In the part of John known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, when he tells the disciples that he will leave but then return he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” That implies that this is more than a simple greeting. Later headds, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” That too implies more than a simple greeting. When he then entered that locked room and led with the words “Peace be with you,” it’s definitely more than “Hi, nice to see you.”

It would also seem to be about more than peace as a quiet evening around the fire, more even than peace as an absence of conflict especially in the context of all that had happened. Think for a moment about some of the things that John describes. During Jesus trial and crucifixion Peter had three times denied that he knew Jesus; the other disciples mostly had disappeared into the background. Then, even with rumors of an empty tomb and resurrection, the disciples were hiding in fear in a locked room.

In other words, there’s nothing remotely heroic here, nothing to be proud of and then Jesus appears and you can imagine the disciples wondering if this was good news or bad news after they had pretty much bailed out on him when the going got tough. But then they hear the words, “Peace be with you.” It is a greeting, but it’s a greeting of reconciliation. It’s a greeting of forgiveness. It’s a greeting of new life, new life for them, new life which is life in his name.

Another key verse in this text, one that is key to the entire gospel of John is the last verse, verse 31. It’s important because here John gives his purpose in writing his gospel, the purpose being “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing in him you may have life in his name.” That reinforces the idea that this greeting of peace, this sharing of the peace is about “life in his name.”

This whole Second Sunday of Easter text is about life in his name and life in his name is about peace. Peace then is about reconciliation and reconciliation is about forgiveness, forgiveness being something else Jesus brings up: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Martin Luther understood that verse as giving the church the authority to forgive or not forgive sins and that certainly is a legitimate interpretation. In the context of these verses and in the context of “life in his name” though, I can also see the words about retaining sins being directed at the one who fails to forgive: it’s the one who fails to forgive who retains, who holds on to the sin of the one not forgiven. Withholding forgiveness there is no peace, there’s no reconciliation, there’s no life in his name.

Life in his name is also about the Holy Spirit. That’s another important part of this text: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” We won’t officially celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit until June this year but these words are sometimes identified as John’s Pentecost story. Life in his name though, is Spirit driven life and that finally brings me back around to sharing the peace as part of the liturgy.

When we share the peace, think of yourself as an agent of the Holy Spirit, mediating the presence of the Risen Christ to those you greet. It’s a greeting that represents what Jesus himself represents which is…reconciliation and forgiveness and grace and welcome. All of those things are characteristic of this text, all of them are characteristics that revolve around the Thomas part of this text with Thomas being the poster child for the gift of peace that is offered. Thomas, in his doubt and in his faith, is representative of all of us which I think is part of the reason this text is used every year; we can all relate to him. Reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and welcome also then revolve around each of us as we extend and as we receive a greeting of peace.

The sharing of the peace is not a throw away part of the liturgy, nor is it just a break in the service and a chance to stretch your legs and move around a little bit. Even with a better understanding of it though, like other parts of the liturgy it probably won’t be deeply meaningful every time you do it; there probably will be times when it is just a greeting. When you need it though, it is an expression of reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and welcome spoken to you and spoken by you and both are important because both witness to the presence of the Risen Christ among us.

So…“Peace be with you.”

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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