Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making Peace

When I was in seminary, the movement for liturgical renewal was in high gear -- and breathtaking, daring, frustrating, and liberating was that trip. I remember that, as would-be good Lutherans, my schoolmates and I debated the "logistics" of confession and absolution and that passing of the peace. These things were now up for grabs and seriousness demanded that we think seriously and reasonably about them. (Lutherans, for the most part, were not used to thinking about liturgy in anything but serious and rational terms -- something that has changed somewhat since the 70s, I think.)

Working on verses 21-26 of Matthew 5, that whole experience is running fresh in my mind. For one of the issues we tried to work through was the "placement" within the plan of the liturgy of the passing of the peace. Now, remember, we first had to get used to the idea of making peace with others in the pews! Reconciliation, to the extent that it figured in liturgy, was all "God-to-me." But once we exploded that misunderstanding and came to affirm the making of peace before partaking of the Lord's body and blood, the question -- of both theological and sociological sense -- was where to place it: Ought it to follow the general confession and absolution, which we held to belong at the beginning of the service -- really as prologue to the service? (We at Gettysburg were very well-informed, and our practice was set into print in the Lutheran Book of Worship that was published a few years after we graduated.) Or ought it to come later, closer to the actual communion itself, when it would reinforce the unity of the worshiping community? (We didn't arrive at consensus on that issue, but LBW placed it in the later position, after the sermon and before the communion.)

Reading patristic commentary on Matthew has suggested that it is proper to share or make peace as close to the actual time of communion as possible -- so the LBW and it's ragtag child, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, actually place it too early. Chrysostum, in commenting on verses 23 and 24, paraphrases Jesus and goes on to explain this way:

"Interrupt the service you are offering me," he says, "so that your love may continue. To be reconciled to your brother is to offer sacrifice to me." Yes, this is the reason Jesus did not say "after the offering" or "before the offering." Rather, precisely while the very gift is lying there, when the sacrifice is already beginning, he sends you at that precise time to be reconciled to your brother. Neither after removing nor before presenting the gift, but precisely while it lies before you, you are to run to your brother.

So those traditions that share the peace after the "consecration" and before the actual communing are on to something, eh?

The point of this is to be receptive to the teaching of Jesus: Liturgy done while one is at odds with a brother or sister is blasphemous. Hostility is the root problem that is addressed with the commandment to do no murder -- at least according to Jesus in this logion. To overcome that hostility is a reflection of the humility which is commended to His followers.

Alas, another reason to be discontent with the Lutheran worship resource! (That's an inside joke for my Lutheran fellows.)

On a related note, I have often criticized the passing of peace as a meaningless gesture, shared as it is usually with those sitting or stationed around one -- who are probably not the ones with whom we are fighting. But it has recently entered my thick skull, that the practice may not be so bad. I usually sit with my wife and daughter (except when any of us is serving the liturgy). We also sit in the same place every week (yes, Kate! I know how wrong that is.) with pretty much the same people around us. (So I'm not the only one who claims "my pew.")

And for me, anyway, the ones I find it easiest not to be reconciled to are precisely those who are closest to me. I am a critical and self-important lout, so no one who loves me can escape. For example, my wife and daughter and I find Sunday morning scheduling very stressful -- something that often results in harsh words. (I'll save the guilty party embarrassment by allowing him/her to remain anonymous.) It is powerfully important not to let that harsh word, that disappointment, that irritation to fester during the sacrifice of the mass. So, much as I hate to admit that I didn't "get it" before, I'll now share peace with people I love, knowing that I need them to signal their forgiveness of me in response to my act of repentance toward them.

Now sometimes the reconciliation doesn't hold: Animosity rears up again all too often in hotheads. But for the time of communion, it has been laid to rest. And that is an important fact.

Now to work on the bigger hatreds, too.


-C said...

Wow, Dwight.
Fine post - and so much here that I could comment on, but I think you might have just given me inspiration for a post of my own (though it always takes me a little time to construct this sort of stuff).

If I don't take or make the necessary time to do this within the next couple of days, I'll be back and leave a little something here.

-C said...

OK, I haven't made the necessary time to do my own post on this on my own blog, so I'll offer only 2 comments:

The intent and purpose of the Peace was never made more obvious to me than it was the first time I worshipped in an Orthodox setting. Just before the Communion, the priest comes out onto the ambo and, facing the people, crosses his hands over his chest and bows to them and says, "Forgive me, my brothers and sisters."
For me, "Forgive me, my brothers and sisters" is ever so much clearer than simply saying "The peace of the Lord be with you." There is a certain calling-it-what-it-is which is missing from The Peace that I grew up with. It is not simply wishing each other God's peace, it is saying "forgive me." There is a difference - if not in intent, certainly in the openess to interpretation.

Secondly, I totally identify with your comment about how the chaos of Sunday mornings leads me to understand that those from whom I need forgiveness the most - those I most regularly offend - are those who are closest to me.

Never was this made clearer to me than at Forgiveness Vespers last year. (Forgiveness Vespers is the service which is held the evening before Lent begins.)

Anyway - thanks for the post. I've thought about it several times this past week.

Anonymous said...

My Sister,

You honor me with your attention, your contribution, and your frienship.