Gospel Reflections by Rev Canon Philip Wadham
Sermon February 13 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Gospel – Matthew 5:21-24
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift.
When the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) was introduced in Anglican Churches throughout Canada in the 1980’s some churches had problems with the suggested practice around ‘The Peace’. It is suggested in the BAS that “The members of the community, ministers and people, may greet one another in the name of the Lord’. A comment heard at one church that I was involved with was “Why can’t we just be left in peace instead of having to greet each other. Since those early years the celebration of the Peace has generally been accepted and in the case of St. Stephen with a great deal of enthusiasm.
However, The Peace is not primarily a time to say “Hi” but in its origins goes back to the early years of the Church and the gospel. When St Matthew’s gospel was written, around 50 years following the death of Jesus, groups of Christians met for worship and would share a form of Eucharistic meal together. At this meal they recalled the night that Jesus shared his final meal with his close friends and followers. They shared bread and wine together as they recalled Jesus instruction to “Do this” in memory of him. They came together in unity, called to be living witnesses of the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. But there could be no celebration of ‘good news’ if there were divisions and even hostility among them. Paul’s 1st letter to the church in Corinth show that there were tensions, an underlying conflict and this was in danger of tearing the church apart (Read 1 Corinthians, chapters 1-3). Matthew, a good Jew, uses the image of Temple worship to teach the followers of Jesus how they should act.
23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew tells his readers/listeners that before they can have any meaningful communion together they should make sure that any underlying conflicts have been settled. A failure to do this is to undermine the very essence of the Eucharist which is a celebration of our oneness in Christ, our commitment to the gospel and to each other. The roots of The Peace are to be found in this – that we should be at one with each other before we share communion together. To make the point The Peace is placed immediately before the Offering and the Prayer of Consecration.
The reality for us is that most often we are at one with others in our congregation. So The Peace for us is more a recognition of our oneness in Christ than it is for the healing of differences. Furthermore whatever differences there may still be following The Peace (and as Anglicans we are a diverse lot so we do not all think the same and there will continue to be differences among us) we are united in our concern for each other and our oneness in Christ.
My hope and prayer, as your albeit interim priest-in-charge here at St Stephen is that we may be committed to each other and to the future witness of this Church of ours. In order to do this we must not follow after the congregation of the church in Corinth. Each of us follows Christ and we best express this by our commitment to each other, to the gospel that we proclaim and to the love we live out in the community where we live. If we can do this there will be no need for a St. Paul to correct us. Instead, as we read in the Letter to the Ephesians –I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (1:15,16)
Rev Canon Philip Wadham, priest-in-charge, St. Stephen’s Anglican Church