Last year I heard a sermon on the liturgical practice of Passing the Peace. It changed the way I view this part of a worship service, and the way I think about what it means to gather together weekly in worship.
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Galatians 1:3-5
In the sermon, the speaker argued for the tremendous importance of this time in the life of a worshiping community. As with other parts of a worship service, it is a kind of practice. A fundamental part of being a Christian is seeking peace. First, we seek to be reconciled and forgiven of our sins as we confess and receive absolution. Then, after asking and receiving forgiveness, we turn to our neighbors to give and receive forgiveness in accordance with Jesus command to love God and each other.
The speaker went on to critique the tendency to keep this practice brief, so as to only allow for pleasantries to be exchanged with those immediately surrounding you. Time must be given so that those that really need to forgive and be forgiven may have a chance to do so. This is practice. This is rehearsal. This is fundamentals. This is preparation.
We Christians practice, prepare, and rehearse this fundamental feature so that we, as Christians, might be prepared to live out this command in the world. Simply saying hello is not the kind of practice that I need. Simply shaking hands is not the kind of practice that leads to the ability to forgiveness in the rest of life. Seeking out the individual who you have hurt, who has wronged you, and exchanging words of peace and reconciliation within the confines of the congregation can assist in being able to forgive the things in life that really hurt.
The "turn the other cheek" passage, although perfectly applicable, seemed a little cliche and I think it would fall on deaf ears in what I'm about to say. I chose the Galatians passage because I've been in a course on it all semester, and I see Paul's actions in writing a letter to be in line with his teaching in Gal. 6:1.
In closing, the death of Osama Bin Laden has kept me up tonight. I jumped into conversations on twitter and facebook and got a little "riled up." If you'd like to view those, you can follow me on twitter (@russbo) or friend me on facebook.
What I have to say about the death and the reaction of Christians is this: perhaps if churches did a better job of teaching, congregations did a better job of learning, and individuals did a better job of practicing the Passing of the Peace, then we would not be debating whether it is Christian or not to rejoice in Osama's death. It wouldn't be necessary because it would have been easy to forgive because churches had been practicing forgiveness in such a way that it just happens because "that's what we do." We could learn a lot from those who have recently embodied this grace and forgiveness: the Amish community of Nickel Mines. My coaches used to tell me that I would play how I practiced. I need to practice better. Forgiveness is more difficult than revenge.