Peace Out

20120130-202455.jpgEvery Sunday during our worship services at Faith, we have this little ritual that takes place. This particular ritual happens after the Prayers of Intercession, and before the offering is collected. It is a momentary time of chaotic interaction during an otherwise orderly assembly. People get up, move around, shake hands, greet one another, and say these words: “Peace be with you.”

But what is the point of doing this? Why is it important to do this action in the context of a worship service? Does it carry any more significance than the high-five that they do at the conclusion of Little League and football games?

Passing the peace of Christ is actually an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” 1 Peter 5:14 says, “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Through his letters Paul repeatedly reminds the churches to greet one another with “a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26). It was the custom in the ancient western Mediterranean for men to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek.

Passing the peace is a tradition rooted in Scripture that embodies our identity as peacemakers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace. It is also a comforting reminder of the greeting Jesus himself used with his disciples, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

Similarly, when we regularly pass the peace we practice God’s call to maintain the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Grudges and bitterness should fall away when we greet one another in the reality of the peace Jesus brings to us. By regularly performing this gesture our hearts and minds can become shaped in the form of peace.

Finally, when we shake a hand and say, “Peace,” we are actually imparting Christ’s peace to one another. It is as if Jesus himself is physically embracing and speaking to you and through you. Just as the bread and wine are transformed into something more than physical nourishment, our gestures and words are transformed into something more. “Peace” becomes more than a word shared between two parishioners. The words of peace spoken become the words of Christ delivered to us in the human flesh.

Worship Breathes

One could picture the fourfold model of worship as a pattern of inhalation and exhalation. As we gather together as the people of God and then hear the Word we are taking in the breath of God. As we give thanks at the Table and are sent out into the world we exhale (share) the breath of the God with the rest of the world. I like the imagery of our worship “breathing” for three biblically rooted reasons.

First, breathing reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables everything we do, especially our worship. Genesis 1:2 tells us that in the beginning when God created heaven and earth there was a divine wind sweeping over the waters. The Holy Spirit was the divine breath that activated the words that spoke everything into being. The most ancient recorded liturgies of the church describe how the priest would breathe on the baptismal waters in blessing, recalling the Holy Spirit’s presence at creation. Just as God breathed life into Adam and Eve, the Holy Spirit breathes life into the words and actions of our confession and thanksgiving to God.

Second, every living, breathing thing was created for the purpose of praising God. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that breathes praise God.” Every day we wake up because God graciously gives us the breath for another spin around the earth. Every breath, therefore, is an opportunity to return praise and adoration to God for who he is and what he has done. No one flawlessly seizes every available breath to praise God, and some people ignore God their whole life. But we have confidence that every breathing thing will acknowledge Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11).

Third, as believers we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The idea of a “living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. Something that is sacrificed is killed. In God’s original design for worship, death was synonymous with sacrifice. Something always died in a sacrifice. The paradox of a “living sacrifice” is created through the reality that in Jesus we are new creatures. Death has been defeated in Jesus, and now our worship is a living sacrifice of praise. In other words, the breath isn’t taken out of our worship. Our worship is left alive, to breathe.

"Living Sacrifice" Is An Oxymoron

Romans 12:1-2:I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

“Living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. Something that is sacrificed is killed. In the Old Testament, God sets up a pattern for worship that includes taking animals and other items to an altar where they are slaughtered and burnt as a sacrifice of worship. In God’s original design for worship, death was synonymous with sacrifice. Something always died in a sacrifice. So to say “living sacrifice” would be like saying “living dead.”

The paradox of a “living sacrifice” is created through the reality that in Jesus we are new creatures. Death has been defeated in Jesus, and now our worship looks different. Our worship is still sacrificial, but now it is a living sacrifice of praise. In other words, the breath isn’t taken out of our worship. Our worship is left alive, to breathe.

Hebrews 13:15-16: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

(sketch by Luc Freymanc)

Worship Does God's Story

(from the August 2011 Mountain Mover Newsletter at Faith Lutheran Church)

Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.

The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.

The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.

Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.

The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!

Church Music from Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

[vimeo vimeo.com/25994173]

This is a video I recorded on March 4, 2010 while touring Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We were very fortunate to hear the cantor and chorus rehearsing the deggua or “church song” in the cathedral. The video also shows the beautiful stained glass windows and the tomb of Haile Selassie.

The sacred music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very old. The hymnary is attributed to Saint Yared, a scholar who lived in Aksum in the 6th century. This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about our journey toward adoption because Deacon’s “finding place” was in front of Saint Yared Music School in Addis Ababa in 2006. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my profession/livelihood/calling happens to be church music and that is where Deacon was found! That news was an epiphany for me. Just as God had used music in my life to bring me into the faith and into a relationship with Him as an adopted son, God used a music school to make me a father and teach me about faith, love, and hope.

Learn more about Trinity Cathedral HERE. Learn more about Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy HERE.

 

The Turning Over of Traditional Tables

From Everyday Liturgy:

“There has been a huge surge in liturgical interest among young people like myself that Christian media has really picked up on.

The Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers see this as a “trend.” It’s something that young people are into, like Arcade Fire, Invisible Children, social justice or Tom’s Shoes. In part, it’s seen as “cool” or “hip.” They see a return to liturgy as a turning over of traditional evangelical or low-church Protestant tables. It’s a way to stick it to the man or not be part of the status quo.

I do agree that this liturgical, ancient-future worship movement is a turning over of traditional tables. But, this turning over of tables is not a spilling over of a century’s worth of low-church Protestantism as the table is flipped over. Instead, this movement is a return to the center. It’s a journey back home. It’s a realization that almost 2,000 years of vibrant Christian worship had been totally eclipsed and stuck in closets or the histories found in dusty theological books.

This movement of my generation is a turning over of traditional tables: but we’re not flipping them over and sticking it to our parent’s and grandparent’s generation. We’re righting the tables. We’re dusting them off and putting the chairs back under it.”

Benediction

You are sent out into the world.
Each of us carry God’s love, Christ’s light, and the Spirit’s breath.
Go in peace, and live the church.
Amen.

This is a benediction I composed that we have been using at Theophilus the last few weeks. I like it for several reasons. It captures the “sending” component of the benediction, which is important because every service ends with the final “sending” fold of the fourfold order. The Gospel and Meal propel us outward into the world. I also like it because it’s Trinitarian. As we exit a service we are stewards of the Father’s love (1 John 3:1 “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”), the Son’s light (Philippians 2:15 “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”), and the Holy Spirit’s breath (John 20:22 “Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”).