This last Sunday (May 16th), I gave the homily at Piedmont Presbyterian Church, which is just a short bike ride from our home in North Portland.
One of the liturgical readings this week was from John 17:20-26, in which we find these words, in the form of a prayer by Jesus:
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in ME and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
And a bit later:
“…that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent Me, and love them, even as You have loved Me.”
This idea of being “one” seems to be a big deal to Jesus. He prays it twice in no uncertain terms here in his last recorded words to his beloveds before his martyrdom (and the only place where he addresses us latter-generation followers). He also started this multi-chapter diatribe, with a similar thought, “a new commandment I give to you that you love one another…by this all mankind will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34-35).
It is more than a big deal. He says that the implications of this “oneness” would change the world.
. . .
Being raised in the church, I was taught that Christians are nice, always nice. That is the Christian way. So, I learned to dress nice for Sunday morning. I was taught to give strong and assuring handshakes, smile to all and proclaim “good morning”.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about being “nice”.
At Piedmont, like many liturgical churches, we practice “passing the peace”. In this practice, one walks around the sanctuary right in the middle of the service, look each other square in the eye and say to as many attendees as possible (which at Piedmont means every attendee), “peace”, “peace to you”, “peace of Christ.”
This may seem like a quirky practice, but in its DNA, this weekly exercise uniquely embodies Jesus prayer for “oneness”.
Historically, there was often only one church in a village and on Sunday everybody gathered. When it came time to Pass the Peace, you might find yourself face to face with: the person whose land you work, the person who married your childhood love, the person who held an unpaid debt, a person who paid you an unfair wage, a person who was born into a privilege that you will never share. And on every Sunday morning you would practice looking each neighbor in the eye and saying, “Peace”, “Peace of Christ”.
The people of Jesus are called to a life that is more than nice, it is designed to startle. It is designed to startle with its humility, its diversity, it inter-personal justice and for its peace.
“Peace of Christ to you.”
(I will be sharing from the pulpit the next three weeks. May 23rd is Pentecost and reflections on diversity in the Kingdom of God. May 30th is Trinity Sunday. And June 6 will bring a healing-story in Luke 7.)