john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Matt 4 - On Sharing the Peace with Christ

    Bridestowe and Lydford Communions,

    Isaiah 9.1-4, 1 Corinthians 1.10-18, Matthew 4.12-23

    (NB the sermon reproduced here was preached at Lydford; I adapted it slightly to suit Bridestowe's story)

    Blessed are the peacemakers. Words of Jesus which we know well and affirm enthusiastically, and try to express in our own life out in the world.

    Blessed are the peacemakers. Easy to assume that we are peaceable people when we live in a place which is relatively at peace; easy to think that we are quite able and equipped to be peacemakers when our lives are relatively calm.

    But how would it have felt to you and me to have been worshipping here in Lydford in the time of King Etheldred II - obviously in a different building, but on this site, where today a granite plinth opposite the Church gate records the trauma of the raids of the Danish Army, 'burning, spoiling the people' - imagine the terror here at that time of trouble. How would we have tried to be peacemakers in that situation?

    Or how would it have felt to you and me to have been worshipping here in Lydford in the Reformation years, where previously peaceable communities all over the land were riven by conflict over worship and taxation; churches have often been the site of internal conflict, as we well know: how could you and me have behaved like peacemakers in Reformation Lydford? Or what would a Christian peacemaker have done in Lydford in the time of the castle prison with the cries of those in the dungeons interrupting our pious prayers?

    Jesus came to bring a kingdom of peace, and those he called - like the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John - he invited to share the good news, to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, to bring healing and peace into their community. And their calling is now also ours.

    Isaiah foresaw the coming of this peaceable kingdom, when an area known as 'Galilee of the Gentiles' was under occupation - ruled by Israel's enemies, Assyria, the people there had to face life under the control of foreign forces. It was a time of gloom, a time of darkness for them, having to give up many of the things precious to them - their ways of life - to fit in with the new ways of their conquerors. Not unlike the people of Lydford who for a time were forced to pay Danegeld - a tax to the Viking invaders.

    Isaiah saw the peaceable kingdom of Jesus coming, and brought a voice of hope. 'There will be no more gloom for those in distress,' he said. 'In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and Naphtali; but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.'

    Isaiah had a vision of what it would be like for the people in the future, in a glorious day of freedom and release:
    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned, he said.
    His words proclaimed the coming Jesus, the one who the gospel writer Matthew would later describe; Jesus, who would bring light into dark places, Jesus, who would restore life to people and places which had been overcome by a kind of death, Jesus who, in a place of conflict, would speak and make gestures of peace. Matthew shows us Jesus challenging the powers of the world's kings with a new sort of kingdom: 'Repent,' he proclaimed, 'for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' Jesus would make possible a kingdom of love, joy, and peace between peoples forged in conflict.

    If we are wondering how we might behave as peacemakers today, Isaiah helps us. Isaiah stood before a suffering people and give them words of hope. Isaiah showed us how to speak peace, as he stood before a downtrodden people and encouraged them to seize the day. Isaiah turned the eyes of a people who had lost their faith back onto a faithful God. With the coming of Jesus' kingdom, into which, like those fishermen, we are called, we can be people like Isaiah, who, in a place of conflict, will speak and make gestures of peace.

    For the calling of the disciples is our calling; the invitation which Jesus extended first to those fishermen in Galilee of the Gentiles, he extends to us in Lydford today, and if we respond then we embrace the same role which they accepted: to share the good news, to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, to bring healing and peace into our community.

    Now Lydford today seems a long way from that deeply conflicted place of Saxon-Viking times, or Norman times, or the times when Stannary Law ruled. But under the surface we know that people do struggle here; in themselves and with each other. Conflict comes as part of human nature - so we know that we and our community are as much in need of peace and healing as any of our predecessors. We each need the good news of the kingdom of heaven to lift us out of ourselves and our own interests and to help us to be people who will bring peace to others.

    Conflict comes as part of church life too, as it always has - our epistle today records Paul trying to persuade the Corinthian believers to stop their inward-looking squabbles about which leader they should follow. We bring our troubled humanness here to worship, hoping that in this special hour we might hear that calling again, of Jesus, 'Follow me', embrace the good news of my peaceable kingdom, know my healing within you and among you.

    Our worship services are designed to help us respond to Jesus' calling. We can find within this hour, space to be penitent and to receive forgiveness, space to pray for ourselves and others, space to remember Jesus in the meal which he invites us to - and space to speak words and to make a gesture of peace.

    And I would like to invite you to consider the significance of The Peace for ourselves in our worship, as I know there has been some discussion of it here of late, which I welcome. It can only enrich us if we consider together more deeply what it is that we are doing together in worship, and why, and what effect it has on our lives.

    The sharing of The Peace has its roots in the command of Jesus to his followers recorded in Matthew's gospel:

    So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5.23-24]

    That's why The Peace comes before the communion: so we can right our disputes before approaching Jesus' table.

    God wants us to be right with each other. And The Peace has the capacity to enable us to enter more fully into the relationship between God and his people, to embrace the good news of his kingdom more deeply in our lives, in our attitude and behaviour towards others. [1]

    The relationship between God and his people has two dimensions, the vertical (God to us) and the horizontal (us to each other), and when we share 'The Peace of the Lord' we are growing in both directions at once. It is a moment when we can affirm and feel our faith working out through our bodies - our mouth, our hands; it is a moment when we can speak a word or make a gesture which brings genuine peace and healing; it is a moment when we can embrace a kingdom of heaven attitude towards others, and feel and know the power of that in ourselves.

    The Peace - a moment which we should not deny by shunning it through reserve, or undermine by turning it into a festival of hugging which is not really what was intended. By speaking the words: 'The Peace of the Lord be always with you' the priest creates a moment for you in the congregation to respond; in the vertical, opening up to God, and in the horizontal, reaching across to others. I will always create that moment in our worship services here to allow you the opportunity to right yourself with, to and bring light to, others. I won't prolong it, won't force it, but will create the space for it to happen, in whatever way is right for you, in that day and at that time.

    Whether you choose to use that moment to shake hands or make a gesture, or to speak words of greeting or peace, or to simply stand in thoughtful, prayerful, contemplative silence, I trust that you will continue to acknowledge The Peace here in the sober but sacred understanding that it is a moment where you embrace the kingdom of heaven and permit it to break into your lives, your church, your community.
    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
    In Galilee of the Gentiles, in Corinth of the early church, in Lydford through the ages, in every place where humans have gathered, conflicted, struggled, and grown - God through Jesus has offered light and peace: and called ordinary people like us to follow him in the making and the sharing of it. Let us celebrate and give thanks.

    Sermon draws on some material from a previous Epiphany sermon, Epiphany: Light in the darkness, 23/01/2005, and from various local history sources.
    [1] Drawing from The Peace in Mark Beach, Using Common Worship: Holy Communion (Church House Publishing 2000)