Mission = expanding the Eucharist

Scott Gunn has resurrected his blog and written a cogent explanation of why the passing of the peace during the Eucharist is not best served by turning it into a hugging-and-chatting marathon.the peace

I’ve been a part of churches like that and it’s been fine. But he’s also right that the purpose of the peace is not to ask our friend how the weekend has been but to embody the reconciliation with one another that is ours in Christ. As he notes, it is Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to “be reconciled” before bringing our gifts to the altar that provides the grounding for the act. Moreover, in the earliest recorded teaching on the Eucharist (I Corinthians 11) St. Paul lambasts the Corinthians for the divisions in their community when they celebrate the Eucharist—the rich eat well together and the poor stay separate and eat, well, not a lot presumably (v. 21). Paul says this amounts to showing “contempt for the church of God.” (v. 22) It’s no mistake that in the following chapter Paul offers his lengthy teaching on the body of Christ, a reminder of how we are all in this together. So if we’re not reconciled with one another before receiving the Eucharist, we’re kind of missing the point.

This raises a particular question, one that a commenter asks of Gunn in his post:

I am not aware of reconciling being possible at that time. If I need to reconcile it would require more than an smile and a handshake.

How are we supposed to resolve the pressing divisions in our community and in the world with a handshake, a hug, or—if we’re being properly Biblical—a kiss?

The answer? We’re not.

The passing of the peace is simultaneously both a handshake that reminds us of our need for reconciliation with our neighbour and an embodiment of the work of reconciliation that has already been wrought on the cross. The bread and wine that we use at the Eucharist is both “just” bread and wine and at the same time the mystical body and blood of Christ. When we enact the liturgy, we are both doing normal, everyday acts—reading, speaking, handshaking, giving, receiving, eating—and participating in the work of salvation and redemption—hearing the intertwining of our life with the Biblical narrative, embodying reconciliation, returning to God what has been given to us, receiving the body and blood of Christ.

The liturgy, therefore, prompts us to ask questions that help us gauge the rest of our lives. The passing of the peace, I find, raises some of the following questions for me:

  • With whom in this congregation am I trying to avoid passing the peace? With whom do I genuinely need to seek reconciliation?
  • Does it feel particularly false with anyone when I say, “Peace be with you”?
  • Most importantly, who is not in this congregation? With whom am I missing opportunities for reconciliation because of their absence from this Eucharistic community? Whom should I be looking to invite into this community?

And that leads to a reminder that our liturgy is not just something we do to feel good about ourselves. It is not something we have to get through before we can get on to the important stuff. Our liturgy is mission(al). It is the enactment of our faith.

Indeed, my favourite definition of mission is simply this: expanding the Eucharistic community. When we draw more people into this community of people who are in right relationship with God (confession/absolution), with another another (passing the peace), and gathered around the crucified and risen Christ on the altar, then we are truly sharing the love of God in Christ with the world.

The Church in Bukavu, Congo

(This post contains graphic images of victims of violence.)

I’ve written before about how the church around the world is on the front-lines of some very serious, distressing, and appalling conflicts. News comes recently of the Diocese of Bukavu’s response to the ongoing violence—including killings, rapes, and general displacement—in eastern Congo, a place of conflict for much of the past two decades.

Extracts of the report follow. A reminder, as with anything we read from our sisters and brothers around the world, that English is often their third or fourth language.

The diocese of Bukavu serves to South Kivu Province and a great part of North Kivu Province. In both regions, the security situation is becoming worse because of fighting everywhere, massacre of innocents and massive displacement of people….

A large number of the victims are in displacement in Bulambika Centre and Bukavu town. Many of them are vulnerable people such women, children and old people. They are now living in the families of the Christians who hosted them but their situation is anxious because there is nobody to improve their basic needs….

Therefore, with anxious and sadness in hearts, the diocese of Bukavu recognizing the holistic mission of the Church is humbly requesting your prayers for peace and any kind of support YOU so that these vulnerable victims can get relief.

Their report includes a pictures of victims of the violence.

The full report is posted here, with contact details about how you can be in touch with folks in the Diocese of Bukavu. (The report contains pictures of the victims that are more graphic than these.)

If we take our baptism seriously, these pictures are not simply pictures of dead people but of dead sisters and brothers in Christ, whose suffering we, in a very real way, are connected to. And as the Bible tells us, “If one part suffers, all suffer with it.” (I Cor. 12:26)

Is it more than a little infuriating that the Anglican Communion can work itself into a lather about a proposed covenant, taking up years of time and huge swathes of Internet space, but barely notice when events like this take place?

“We too have a dream…based on the Church’s prophetic stance on justice and peace”

Folks who know I’ve spent some time in Sudan have lately been in habit of beginning conversations with me like this: “Isn’t the news from Sudan awful?!”

I never quite know how to respond. On the one hand, yes, it is true: what filters out in the wider world—and onto top-of-the-hour NPR newscasts—is pretty bad. On the other hand, Sudan and South Sudan are both hugely complex places that make me uncomfortable rendering sweeping judgements. Yes, it seems renewed war between north and south is a real possibility. On the other hand, there’s news of a (church-led) peace conference in Jonglei, a separate, non-border part of South Sudan, which, before the doings of the last few weeks, has been a source of awful news. At the same time, a conflict that has been going on for nearly a year continues in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere along the border.

So when people ask me this question, I—who have no special insight or knowledge beyond what is publicly available to all—usually say, yes, there’s been some bad news but I have a lot of hope about the future.

One reason for hope centres on the ongoing role of the church in peace-building. Several Catholic and Episcopal bishops recently met in Yei and articulated some of their hopes for the future. The statement is worth reading in its entirety but here are a few extracts:

The Church is not only for Christians nor for South Sudanese. The Church identifies with the poor and oppressed of any creed, ethnicity or nationality, wherever they are…. We bring to the world not the voice of politicians, parties or movements but of the people on the ground, who are suffering a humanitarian tragedy and whose human dignity and human rights are not respected by their own government.

Martin Luther King famously said, “I have a dream”. We too have a dream, a vision, a conviction. Our dream is based on Gospel values; on the Church’s prophetic stance on justice and peace; and on the dignity of each human being, created in the image and likeness of God. Where others see problems, we see the presence of God and the opportunities which God’s presence opens up for us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted (Luke 4:18). Our dream is an expression of this Good News….

We dream of people no longer traumatised, of children who can go to school, of mothers who can attend clinics, of an end to poverty and malnutrition, and of Christians and Muslims who can attend church or mosque freely without fear. Enough is enough. There should be no more war between Sudan and South Sudan!

Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be recognised as children of God (Matthew 5:9). We take this very seriously, and we stand committed to do all in our power to make our dream a reality. We believe that the people and government of South Sudan desperately want peace. We believe the same is true of the people and their liberation movements in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. We do not believe, however, that a lasting peace will come unless all parties act in good faith. Trust must be built, and this involves honesty, however painful that may be. We invite the International Community to walk with us on the painful journey of exploring the truth in competing claims and counter-claims, allegations and counter-allegations. We invite them to understand the peaceful aspirations of the ordinary people, and to reflect that in their statements and actions.

So, get involved in Sudan. Pay attention. Become an advocate. Do what the bishops are asking and walk with Sudanese on “the painful journey of exploring the truth.”

Is the news awful? In many places, yes. Is the situation without hope? Absolutely not.

The Cross in our Midst in Holy Week

There are many seemingly intractable situations in South Sudan but one that has gotten a fair bit of attention recently is the ongoing violence in Jonglei state. As we sit in this Holy Week, there is an update on the situation, in the form of a report from Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and a lead negotiator in Jonglei.

The Committee feels that there is a new momentum for peace in Jonglei State at all levels, from the grassroots right up the national government. We appeal to all stakeholders within Jonglei and South Sudan to put aside their differences and take this opportunity to work together for peace, reconciliation and tolerance. Enough is enough.

We appeal to all to speak the language of peace, reconciliation and tolerance, particularly our diaspora and intellectuals. We must all accept responsibility for what we say and what we do, to give peace a chance in Jonglei and the whole of South Sudan.

I highlight this for two reasons. First, it’s a reminder of the way our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world are on the frontlines of some difficult situations. It’s one thing, as I did last night, to sit and look at images of violence in the world and reflect on daily crucifixions in this world. It’s entirely another, as members of Archbishop Daniel’s commission will do tomorrow, to visit devastated villages on Good Friday and see the cross in our midst.

Second, it is always worth highlighting—since it seems it is so easily forgotten—that in many parts of the world, it is the church that is the active agent for peace and reconciliation in society, in part because that is the church’s calling but also because in some cases the church is the most well-established organization in society.

Daniel Deng Bul, incidentally, was recently nominated by a British think-tank for their person of the year award.