Restrained peace was welcome

Published October 1, 1998

THE MOMENT IN the eucharist that has come to be called “passing the peace” is one of the indicators that I observe closely when I visit parishes, especially places I have not visited before. Even when it does not happen at all, that is an indicator.

In our local parish, the peace is an occasion of much meeting and greeting. “The peace of the Lord” includes “the news of the world.”

But the Lambeth Conference, with a couple of thousand people from around the world, provided more variety in the “peace” than I experience in Canada. For example, the Maori church taught us to rub noses; others taught us to embrace in the tradition of St. Paul, greeting “the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Thess. 5.26).

Generally I rejoice in exuberance at the peace, but I attended one service where restraint was especially helpful.

The Japanese church presided at the eucharist on Aug. 6 (Transfiguration and Hiroshima Day) and, as the Sri Lankans had also done, used an Asian form – you join your hands palm to palm and hold them together in front of you, and make a solemn bow. This peace contains a restrained grace that helped me greatly at that point.

The day before we had shared in a debate characterized by a style experienced too often at the conference. It was a time, in the words of the archbishop of Central Africa, “devoid of the love of God,” of “tyrants using the Bible as armour,” of words “aimed to wound.” Some of us went to the Japanese eucharist the next morning still bruised and angry.

The restraint of the peace was paralleled in the liturgy by the penitence of the Japanese church for their acquiescence in the Second World War and was a powerful witness to a grace and humility which had been missing the day before from many members and even leaders.

The restraint and calm required by that peace enabled me to express peace towards people with whom exuberance or intimacy would have been impossible. It enabled me to say, “I do indeed want to express our mutual belonging in Christ even though at the moment I don’t much feel like it.”

C. S. Lewis once addressed the question of how we love those whom we do not like. He said that we express it by acting as if we did like them. He was not commending hypocrisy, but simply saying that love is the expression of commitment to others, not based on warm, transient emotions but on our communion as children of God and (at an event like Lambeth) as members of Christ.

Years ago I was at an ecumenical conference where a friend, now a fellow bishop, was teaching Protestants to sing a plainsong grace. After a couple of practices he said “Now, once more, with restraint.”

As a constant diet, restraint can be somewhat thin; certainly some of us raised in ethnic English households know that experience. But I also experienced at Lambeth its capacity to embody and mediate both grace and fundamental commitment when more direct styles might have led me to reply to wounds with deeper wounds.

So, not “peace at any price” but real peace at all costs. Archbishop Michael Peers is the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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