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  • The Rev. Jessica Sexton

Peace be with you always

At the beginning of the school year back in the Fall, I sat down to plan the structure or form or liturgy (liturgy--form of the service and our participation in it) of the Day School chapel services that I have on Wednesday mornings. If you ever want to witness a whole lot of cuteness in here for two hours with 80 preschoolers, you are welcome to join us.

As we begin our Sunday services with the lighting of the altar candles, the Day School Chapel services begin with the lighting of their altar candles and the candle holders are sheep. And yes, they are real candles, no battery operated ones. And yes, after two years, I am always a little nervous helping the 3, 4, and 5 year olds use a taper to light the candles since the their cross is made of wood and I have a lot of hair.

Anyway, like our services we have an opening acclamation, “The Lord be with you,” and the response, “And also with you.” We pray together the same prayer.

After echoing or repeating this prayer after me for the last eight months the preschoolers have it memorized. Because we do the same thing every week, they know that after our prayer we sing a couple songs and then we have a lesson. And we conclude chapel with the children offering up prayers--where they share what they want to thank God for.

The service is sweet and fun, and ultimately gives the children the opportunity to experience church at their level, just like our children’s chapel here at Good Shepherd on a Sunday morning.

But as I was planning the liturgy for the chapel service back in the fall if felt like something was missing. We pray together, we sing together, we learn together but what else could we share with one another?

That’s when I remembered when one of the teachers had suggested the year before, “wouldn’t it be fun to have the kids pass the peace?”

You know? Peace be with you, and also with you. What a great idea! I was like, “Ah ha!” That’s the missing piece! And so we share God’s peace with one another every Wednesday.

And I must say there is nothing cuter than a three year old saying “Peace be with you.” Well, maybe a four year old saying “peace be with you.”

The Peace that we share with one another is a “sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships in the Christian community.” That is so important for Children to know and to grow into--that being a Christian is valuing love and forgiveness and that we show it to one another in that gesture or act of Peace each time we worship together.

As it being an Episcopal School it is also important that our chapel services include parts of the liturgy that are essential to Christian worship.

Did you know that the Peace in our service is actually an ancient Christian practice?

It is believed to have originated from the book of Romans 16:16 when it says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss," and there are other similar passages in scripture that encourage a sign of peace to be shared with one another.

Over the centuries this greeting has adapted into a variety of ways to express God’s peace, including a hug or embrace, a handshake, and even a bow. We share this sign of peace at the end of our liturgy of the word, which is after the scripture readings, sermon and prayers. Right before we begin preparing for Table or the altar for the Eucharist we offer a sign of God’s peace.

Before we take part in the Holy meal of the Eucharist together sharing peace allows us to enter into this sacred part of the service reconciled with one another but also with ourselves.

Since incorporating the Peace into our Day School Chapel Service I have become more aware of the importance and significance of this act.

That sharing Peace with each other is more than just enacting harmony or saying hello, or literally being peaceful. Sharing the Peace with a handshake or a hug is great gift that I have not appreciated as much as I should have. It’s a gift that sometimes I don’t think we even know we are sharing with one another.

It’s one that even the disciples did not initially comprehend as well.

According to the Gospel of Luke today and in even in John’s Gospel last week, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he greets them with “Peace be with you.”

What does Jesus mean when he says “Peace be with you” in today’s reading? Is his sign of peace any different from what it means for us today?

Was it a sign of love and reconciliation?

Was it an offering of goodwill between friends?

Or was it a greeting to warn off anxiety? They did become terrified. Jesus must have known that his resurrection and appearing among them would most likely scare them half to death. And it did!

Why is Jesus’ greeting of peace so important?

Well, back during advent we read the prophet Isaiah who promised that there would be a Prince of Peace who would be the one to bring peace to this earth. And we believe that prince to be Jesus Christ. (He is also a sign to us of God’s peace toward humankind.)

The disciples believed this as well when they praised him during his triumphal journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38)

So, when Jesus says to the disciples, “peace be with you,” he is giving them blessings of wholeness and fullness of life that was promised to humankind through the words of Isaiah.

That one would come, a prince of peace, so that could we could experience what it means to be renewed and made whole through the peace of God. Through that peace of God that can only come from heaven so that we can truly experience love, grace and reconciliation.

Because we believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, we too believe that Jesus’ entire mission is to bring heaven’s gift of peace to men and women. Through this we can experience the peace in heaven is the same peace we crave and hope for on earth.

And it is through the resurrection of Jesus that we and the disciples can have that peace now. Peace in our hearts to know that the fulfilment of his promise gifts us with eternal life with Christ. That our life will be full because we have a savior who is with us in this life and the next.

Jesus even restates in today’s reading how he fulfilled that promise, he said, “the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

Therefore, Jesus’ greeting to the disciples is not just hello, and it’s not just an offering of peace but a sign of a promise fulfilled and a blessing of hope to come. That the peace Jesus offers the disciples and us can give comfort in knowing that through our faith in him we will be blessed and loved.

So, Jesus blessing the disciples. Blessing their life and their future--for them, he’s blessing the future of their ministry.

When you hear those words from Jesus today, “Peace be with you,” how do they bless your life? How do see God’s peace in your life or in the lives of those around you?

And In what ways do you need peace? This may be a hard question to answer. Because sometimes we don’t feel like we know what we even need! We may need so much and peace is just one of the many things we need.

Do you find it hard to take in the peace of God when we live in a world that is not peaceful? Watching news coverage of hundreds of men, women and children being attacked by chemical weapons in Syria. People in tents in refugee camps where their children can’t go to school. Seeing people living in war torn countries where peace does not seem imminent. People in caravans from south america seeking peaceful lives in the US. Or driving through areas of Baltimore where there are no grocery stores nearby and houses are boarded up and gun violence is prevalent.

It’s hard to feel God’s peace--this blessing of wholeness and fullness of life when we don’t feel that way. I find it hard sometimes to feel this peace from God that I pray for and hope for when my world and the world around me is unraveling and discombobulated and sometimes just messy.

Yet I am compelled to think about the ways in which God calls us to be part of the peace that he brings into the world even in the midst of all the dysfunction. Jesus’ greeting to his disciples is a promise he fulfilled to bring peace on Earth that we can share through our love and forgiveness of one another.

When we hear “peace be with you” our response is “also with you.” How do you feel God calling you to participate in building up the world with wholeness and fullness of life? Through God’s love, forgiveness and grace? It is repentance and forgiveness that also brings peace.

A female colleague of mine from seminary quite a few years ago shared an uncomfortable experience when she was serving at a parish for an internship. A parishioner that she was friendly with yelled at her in the middle of coffee hour. She was quite taken back, embarrassed and also hurt by his unkind words. She was so uncomfortable around him and his family that she realized that the only way to have peace amongst them was to ask God for it. So she prayed for this guy everyday for a year. And she found her anxiety and anger for him subside, she was able to forgive him, and she felt a peace that made her feel whole when she was at work and not uncomfortable any longer.

Through forgiveness, grace and love we participle in bringing peace in our world. And this is what God calls us to and what we should model for the generations to come. And why when sharing The Peace with each other every Sunday is so important--that we acknowledge and participate and are reminded of Jesus’ blessing to the world.

My preschoolers when they leave chapel sing “Go now in peace, may the love of God surround you everywhere, everywhere you may Go.” As you leave hear to today go in peace and may you know that God’s love surrounds you and calls you to share the Peace of God in the world through your love, your forgiveness, and through prayers for Grace. Amen.

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