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Lent and the Promise of Peace

– David Romanik

“Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all the peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen”

A Prayer for Peace, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, pg. 815

A few months ago, the author Salman Rushdie wrote, “Peace is a hard thing to make. And yet we yearn for it, not only the great peace that comes at the end of war but also the little peace of our private lives.” This observation depends on two interesting assumptions. The first is that peace between individuals (“the little peace of our private lives”) and the peace between nations (“the great peace that comes at the end of war”) are the same kind of peace; the difference is simply a matter of scale. This means that whatever we do to create the conditions for peace, even on an interpersonal level, is contributing to a larger peace. This leads to the second assumption of Rushdie’s observation, which is that peace is something that must be made. Peace requires an active engagement with others, a commitment to dismantling the hostility that exists between individuals and communities. This reflects how Scripture understands peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus does not say “blessed are the peaceable,” or even “blessed are the peaceful,” but rather, “blessed are the peacemakers”: those who endeavor to create the conditions for peace and reconciliation.

One of the most surprising moments of peace and reconciliation in Scripture occurs just after the resurrection in John’s gospel. The disciples are gathered in the upper room, where they have locked the doors out of fear. Suddenly, the risen Christ appears to his followers and says, “Peace be with you.” It’s hard to overstate how unexpected this moment would have been. The last time the disciples had seen Jesus, he had predicted that they would all abandon him as he made his wayto the cross. After vowing that they would remain faithful, each of thedisciples proceeded to betray, abandon, or deny Jesus. With this in mind,one would expect Jesus to offer words of vengeance and retributionwhen he appears to the disciples. One would expect him to mete outthe punishment the disciples so richly deserve. Instead, contrary to allexpectations, Jesus offers them words of peace. He then goes on to say,“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” as if to say, “Just as I havemade peace with you, so you must make peace with one another.”

On Ash Wednesday, we will recite the Litany of Penitence, which provides a comprehensive catalog of all the ways we have sinned, all the wayswe have fallen short of the glory of God, all the ways we have deniedthe image of God in ourselves and in one another. It is a devastating and withering indictment, and if we take it seriously, it is enough to make us hopeless. How can we ever hope to stand when we havefailed so completely? Yet after the Litany of Penitence, the Celebrantstands and says, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you.” On AshWednesday, in other words, we are reminded that God’s response to ourdisobedience, to our failure to honor the image of God in ourselves andeach other, is peace. God is at peace with us. Immediately following thatpronouncement, we are invited and encouraged to turn to one another and “exchange the peace,” saying (in so many words), “Just as God is at peace with me, so I am at peace with you.” Our response to God’s grace is to make peace with one another.

The season of Lent is a time for making peace. It is a time to reflect on the ways we have harmedothers and ask for forgiveness. It is a time to let others know when they have hurt us, and work toward reconciliation. It is a time to trust that, whenever we strive to make peace with one another, we are helping to create the conditions for God’s promise of peace to be fulfilled.

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