Peace and Forgiveness ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI


Reading 1: ACTS 15:1-2, 22-29

Responsorial Psalm: PS 67:2-3,5,6,8

Reading 2: REV 21:10-14, 22-23

Gospel: JN 14:23-29

Liturgical colour: White.

The saying of the peace been spoken in congregations such as in our church masses for thousands of years. The giving of the peace has become a ritual part of our sunday service. Before the Holy Eucharist, the priest blesses the faithful with the peace of the Lord. In many church congregations, the people shake hands at that time of the service and say, “Peace be with you.”

This is an important action, which is much more than merely the giving of a routine or friendly gesture. The giving of a sign of peace has its roots in the words of Jesus on the night before his death, and on the day of his resurrection. He wanted each to know that he was going into death and coming out again to bring us peace, and that all who share the belief in Jesus also share the common peace that our Lord gives.

The ritual of the giving of the peace of the Lord goes back to the very first Easter. Jesus appeared to His Apostles in a locked room and twice said, “Peace be with you.” He then sent them to bring peace to the world by granting the forgiveness of sin in his name. To each of us who know our sins, this greeting is a refreshing shower of the Lord’s grace.

In the early days of the Christian Church the peace was given not as a handshake, but was given as a kiss. This kiss of peace is spoken of at the end of several of the letters of the New Testament. In the early Church all who received and gave the kiss of peace then received the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the congregation, after those who were still learning the faith were dismissed, the kiss began at the altar and was passed all the way around the church. Only those who received and gave the kiss were welcomed to the Lord’s table.

In a document called the Didascalia from the early third century A.D. it is told of a scene where the kiss of peace suddenly comes to a halt as two people refuse to kiss each other. There was a disagreement. We don’t know what the disagreement was about, but it was probably much like the kind of disagreements we have between people in our own church congregations today. The service then immediately stopped and the presiding minister left the altar and went to where the kiss was blocked. Only after reconciliation of the disagreement did the peace continue on its way around, and only then did the liturgy proceed.

This tells much about how early Christians lived in a congregation. To them the peace of God was a indeed truly a real thing, it was expected to be received by everyone, and to be shared by everyone. There was to be no withholding of forgiveness between the gathered flock. If two people would not share the peace, no one could until those two were brought together.

Does this situation bear any resemblance to our congregations today? It is well known that we have times when we are not always at peace with each other. Within our congregation there have been persons who do not even speak with one another, let alone share the peace. How many of our families have been at odds with one another? And yet week after week we come to the Lord’s table together. Do we know what we are doing? If we want the Lord’s forgiveness and peace but will not forgive our brother or sister in Christ, what can we expect to receive in return from the Lord our God? First we must be at peace with our brothers and our sisters, we need to seek their forgiveness and also to forgive them, and then we may come to the Lord to receive his pardon.

We clearly see this reflected in the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. We ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus taught that we are to forgive our brother or sister not only seven times, but seven times seven times. We are always to forgive those who ask for our forgiveness. To withhold forgiveness is to decline the Lord’s forgiveness for ourselves.

During the Easter season especially, the Christian Church is filled with the peace of the Lord. His sacrificial death for our sins brings peace where there once was only guilt. The news of his resurrection spread among his friends and followers and  is remembered in the preaching of the Words of Life that ring in our ears, “He is risen!” The sight of his body, wounded but now healed and filled with glory, points to the future clothing that God will drape upon every person who is truly part of his faithful flock. It is a body that will be raised without any illness, disease, and age. Yes, the time of Easter is one of great joy and peace.

That peace must be shared among us and between us all. Wherever there is any type of division and bad feelings the peace of the Lord must replace that. We cannot truly celebrate the peace of Easter and still be holding a grudge against a fellow brother or sister. If we do, we are only imagining the peace of the Lord rather than truly receiving and giving it. We can shake a hand, we can mumble the words of peace, we can even kiss othere on the cheek, but if there is not full forgiveness in our heart, we do not have the peace that the Lord is giving.

The peace of the Lord is forever. Knowing that we have been completely forgiven by God and that he will never forsake us is powerful knowledge.

It gives strength to everything we do. It doesn’t matter if we are working, studying, raising a family, or lying in bed in a nursing home with no hope of recovery. Knowing that Jesus died and rose to give us eternal life is the most peaceful of all experiences. It gives us the strength to cope with any hardship. It calms the restless soul. It lifts the lowest spirit. It is the only true peace we can ever know in this earthly life.

So when we say the Peace at mass and give each other the sign of the peace of the Lord, are we truly doing it from the depths of our hearts and forgiving each other as Our Lord forgives us,  or are we merely doing it out of habit, or routine? Let us look deeply within ourselves to ensure we are doing it with the whole purpose with which the Lord intended.

The peace of the Lord to you all!

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