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Letter from Amy: July 26, 2023


John August Swanson, Peaceable Kingdom, 1994

Dear friends,


This coming Sunday's readings include a series of short parables from Matthew 13. I've been freshly struck by how differently Jesus describes the kingdom than I would expect. A mustard seed, yeast, a treasure, a merchant, a net — so creative, so surprising. What is this kingdom anyway?


As I've sat with these parables this week, I've wondered: what would I say the kingdom of heaven is like? What would you say? How might we imagine God's kingdom in the common sights and experiences of our own time? How you would fill in this sentence?


The kingdom of heaven is like ________________________________________.


And I wonder too: where does our church look like this unexpected kingdom, and where do we simply mirror the kingdoms of this world?


One of the more strange, unexpected and, I hope, kingdom-y moments of our worship each week is The Peace. Though we're trying to gradually rein it in (!), the Peace at Incarnation tends to go long; this is when we mob new faces with friendly words of welcome and catch up with people we haven't seen in a week. It's physical and social and sometimes it can be a little awkward! One of my clergy mentors often reminds me that the length of the Peace is usually inversely related to the size of the church. Smaller church = longer peace. I'm okay with that.


But the Peace is more than an intermission, though we sometimes jokingly call it that. It marks one of the most pivotal turns in the service. We've just confessed our sins and been declared fully forgiven by our loving God. We're on our way to the table, where we will feast on that love together in the body and blood of Jesus, which was broken to secure that forgiveness for us. Here — between the assurance of our forgiveness and its celebration feast — we pause to exchange the Peace of God with one another.


Passing the Peace began as a way for early Christians to make peace with one another before coming to the altar. It was an attempt to honor Jesus' words in Matthew 5:23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there, you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” The Peace embodies Jesus' promise at the Last Supper to leave his peace with his disciples, and enacts the greeting in each of Paul's letters to the early churches: "Grace and peace."


The Peace invites us to examine and prepare ourselves to receive God's reconciling love anew in communion. While this practice began as an exchange of a "holy kiss" in the early church, we practice it now through the more-culturally-appropriate-yet-still-sufficiently-weird handshakes, hugs, pats on the backs, and high fives. This physical touch is meaningful; it puts us into close proximity with people who may have hurt or disappointed us in the past week, or whom we may have hurt or disappointed ourselves.


Where we are not quite at peace with others, we can courageously cross the room, shake hands, and say, "Peace be with you." But sometimes there are hurts for which it is appropriate and wise to avoid proximity for a time; those might be outside the scope of reconciliation that's possible during a 3 minute Peace, but can be invitations to deeper prayer and preparation nonetheless. When we're not yet able to shake hands in peace, we can acknowledge, confess, ask for help, and carry that broken relationship to the altar as an embodied act of hope that God will one day reconcile all things. This is good, hard, important kingdom work.


And so I might answer my earlier question something like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a bunch of people in a school cafeteria scrambling on top of one another to exchange hugs and welcome newcomers and try really hard to learn to love and repent and forgive one another as God's reconciled people.


I'm already looking forward to Sunday's "intermission." See you then!


Grace and peace,

Amy

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