Immersed in Christ: September 13, 2020
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (YEAR A)
The Peace of the Lord
What word is used most frequently in the Rite of Communion?
It is “peace” (seven times). In the Rite of Communion three things are presented as inseparable: peace, forgiveness, and the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” The inclusion of “Lamb” tells us that the wedding banquet celebrates, depends on, is incomprehensible without the sacrificial death of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” All forgiveness, all peace, is rooted in that. The Rite of Communion is the blossoming of the sacrifice celebrated in the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Entrance Antiphon (Sirach 36:18) begins, “Give peace, Lord.” It continues, “to those who wait on you.” This is an eschatological peace: the “peace and unity” of the kingdom, which will not be complete until the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” But it will be complete. That hope is based, not on human optimism, but on faith in the God of “steadfast love” who has promised it.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we say to God: “You alone are the source of our peace.” As “our Creator” he intends that we should have it. As “our guide” he leads us to it. So we ask him — and in asking renew our resolve — “May we serve you with all our heart.” There is no peace, either within us or between us, except in union with God and surrender to his will. “There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.... The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace.” But Jesus came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 1
In the Introductory Rites we proclaimed this: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” It was the way Peter introduced the Good News to the Gentiles: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all.” “Peace!” was the common Christian greeting. Paul began ten of his letters with “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we use those same words for the Greeting at Mass. It was Jesus’ greeting to those to whom he appeared after his resurrection.2
Christ’s peace is not just human peace. It is something the “world” can neither give nor understand. It is a free gift of grace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus himself “is our peace; in his flesh he has made [humanity] one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us... that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” His peace is the mystery of all humanity gathered together in the unity of his risen body, in the glory of his triumph, when Christ will be brought to “full stature” in every member of the redeemed human race, in “the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
It is a peace established through the mystery of the sacrificial death of the “Lamb of God.” “Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” 3
This is the peace we celebrate and experience by anticipation in the Rite of Communion: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” “peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” 4
This is the peace we offer to each other in the Sign of Peace. This sign is not a statement that all is well between us. Such a statement might well be hypocrisy in some cases. Rather, we are saying, whether we find it in our hearts to be ready for it right now or not, “I want peace with you. And with the whole human race. And I believe that Jesus will establish it. I desire that and trust in his power to make it happen. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is what the presider is proclaiming when he says, ”The peace of the Lord be with you always.” It is what he is inviting us to do when he continues: “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” A sign of the peace that will be.
Be like God
Among sinful human beings (the only kind there are!) peace is a non-thought without forgiveness. Mutual forgiveness. A forgiveness the Responsorial (Psalm 103) directs us to base on the very being of God: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”
Sirach 27:30 to 28:7 asks us how we can expect God to act like God to us if we won’t act like God to one another. This isn’t as crazy as it might sound. If we ask God for forgiveness, because “the Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion,” we are saying it is good for God to be this way. We are glad he is this way. But can we say that honestly if we don’t agree that it is good for us to be this way too?
Should a person nourish anger against fellow human beings and expect healing from the Lord? Refuse mercy, yet seek pardon for oneself?
We need to examine our hearts and ask whether, down deep, in the core of our being, we believe forgiving is good or not. If we do not believe it is good, then we do not believe in the God who is “kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion,” the God of “steadfast love.” That is serious!
“Forgive us... as we...
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus makes it graphic. When a forgiven debtor will not forgive his debtor, the master “handed him over to the torturers until he paid back all he owed.”
Jesus is not saying here that his Father (and ours) is a torturer! He is telling a story. To make a point. The point is not to describe the character of the Father. He did that in the story of the “prodigal son,” where he is describing the “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Jesus tells this story to answer Peter’s question: “How often should I forgive?” Don’t make it say what it doesn’t. 5
What Jesus says is, “My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.” We actually prayed for this in the Our Father at the beginning of the Rite of Communion: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew and Luke have different versions of this prayer, which shows it was not meant as a formula to be memorized and recited (although Christians find value in that and do it), but as a set of priorities to guide our hearts in prayer. Translations vary. The one the liturgy uses, because we are used to it, is not found in any modern ones: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Ray Brown renders Luke’s version as “Forgive us our sins, for, indeed, we ourselves (now) forgive our every debtor.” He points out, in response to the difficulty caused by “Forgive us... as we forgive,” that here “there is no quid pro quo, nor is there a question of the priority of human forgiveness.” We never measure God’s actions by ours. “The Matthean ‘as’ simply means that the human forgiveness is the counterpart of the divine.”6
Romans 14:7-9 makes forgiveness a matter of stewardship: “None of us lives as our own master... we are responsible to the Lord.” Since God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation,” we are accountable for all divisions. 7
Without forgiveness, no peace. Without peace, no wedding banquet of the Lamb.
Forgive everyone now. Start the wedding banquet early.
1 Isaiah 57:21; 59:8; Luke 1:79. 2 Luke 2:14; Acts 10:36; Luke 24:36 John 14:27; 20:19, 21, 26. 3 John 14:27; Ephesians 1:10, 22-23; 2:14-17; 4:13; Colossians 1:20. 4 Philippians 4:7; Revelation 1:4. 5 Luke 15:10-32. 6 Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4. See New Testament Essays, “The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer,” Image Books, 1965, pp.308, 310, 313. The bishops of New Zealand have made their official liturgical version of Our Father correspond more to current English and the Gospel text: Our Father in Heaven, / Hallowed be your name. / Your Kingdom come, / Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. / Give us today our daily bread / and forgive us our sins:/ as we forgive those who sin against us. / Save us from the time of trial, /And deliver us from evil. 7 2 Corinthians 5:18.