Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Exodus 34:1-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20, Matthew 5:21-26
Most church services include The Passing of The Peace (or a similarly named practice). At that time, members of the congregation greet each other with phrases such as “The peace of Christ be with you.” Depending upon the denomination and character of the congregation, the greeting may be anything from a brief handshake with your immediate neighbors to several minutes of walking around the sanctuary hugging everyone you’re happy to see again. Liturgically it is usually placed shortly before the offering. Do you know the scriptural reason for this ritual?
Jesus told his disciples:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
– Matthew 5:23-24
The intent of passing peace is not to greet people because we are happy to see them, but to reconcile with the people we are probably less than happy to see. Imagine a moment in church where approaching someone, or being approached, was an admission of conflict. Not a very comfortable situation, is it? But Christ advises us to make amends quickly so we can offer our gifts without judgment hanging over our heads. Note that Jesus makes no distinction about whether we are in the right or the wrong – just that we need to be willing to take the first step toward reconciliation.
Jesus repeatedly emphasizes the connection between our willingness to forgive others, and our ability to be forgiven. In the next chapter of Matthew he teaches us to pray The Lord’s Prayer, which includes the line: “Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.” And in the next chapter he tells his followers: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” No offering, no matter how generous or perfect, makes up for the grudges we bear. We don’t have to accept, condone, or forget – we may even be called to offer loving correction – but Jesus makes one thing clear: we must forgive.
Comfort: Christ’s path is one of love, truth, peace, and reconciliation.
Challenge: When you “pass the peace,” pass it somewhere it hasn’t been in a while.
Prayer: Loving God, forgive my sins as I forgive those who sin against me. Amen.
Discussion: Whom do you need to forgive? Can you do it before Sunday?
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