The Peace of the Lord

When thou, O Lord, hadst arisen from the tomb,
and burst the bonds of hell,
thou destroyedst the condemnation of death for all mankind,
breaking the snare of the enemy.
Revealing thyself to thine Apostles,
thou didst send them forth to preach thy word,
granting thy peace through them to all the world,
O thou only all-merciful One.

     Orthodox Troparion (hymn) of the Resurrection for Matins

Singing this profound text on a recent Sunday (in Winfred Douglas’s English adaptation) from Rachmaninov’s equally profound setting of the All-Night Vigil led me to consider the word and concept ‘peace’ in Scripture and liturgy.

The first, and most fundamental, thing to note is that this peace, eirênê in Greek (derived from eiro, ‘to join’), mir (which means not only ‘peace’ but also ‘world’) in the Slavonic text set by Rachmaninov, is none other than the better-known shâlôm, the Hebrew term which famously denotes the completeness or wholeness characteristic of the Kingdom of God, or of creation restored and renewed – and not just an absence of conflict (which, by means of a treaty or agreement, is the most immediate sense of the Latin-derived word now used in English).

This positive, rather than negative, understanding of peace-as-shalom leads us to a greater appreciation of the peace of God as a thing – a solid, not a void, we might say – that was indeed passed on from Our Lord to His holy Apostles in and around His departure(s) and/or their sending(s): in the sending of the Twelve (Mt 10.13) / the Seventy (Lk 10.5), before His Passion (Jn 14.27), between His Resurrection and Ascension (Lk 24.36 and Jn 20 passim). And the Apostles did (and do) indeed share that peace – constantly – in their Epistles, practically all of which begin with ‘grace and peace to...’. That peace has been, and is, transmitted to us by the successors to the Apostles, the bishops, and their assistants, the presbyters, whose first act upon ordination (as well as upon taking up a new ministry, bcp 563) is to give the peace (and who, in Rite I Masses, also give the peace as part of the concluding blessing). And when that peace is shared among the Body of Christ, it may indeed go to all the world, inasmuch as we all carry out our call to be the apostolic, or missionary, Church.

Accordingly, processions are begun with the deacon’s charge ‘Let us go forth in peace’ [bcp 271, the Palm Sunday Procession; cf. the Candlemas Procession in bos], and similarly one of the forms of dismissal at Mass [bcp 340] and the dismissal at Reconciliation [bcp 448, 451] urge us to ‘go in peace’. One of the Postcommunions also asks God to ‘send us now into the world in peace’ [bcp 365].

This peace, and this sending, are particularly connected, it seems, to healing; Our Lord thrice sends forth those who have been healed by their faith with the words ‘go in peace’ (Mk 5.34; Lk 7.40, 8.48). And, as in the sending of the Twelve/Seventy, whose primary purpose is to cure the sick, the Ministration to the Sick begins with the pronouncement ‘Peace be to this house’ – as does the entrance to a church (the place of healing par excellence) at its consecration.

Peace is also a notable part of the Lucan canticles surrounding the Nativity –

...the dayspring from on high...[will] guide our feet into the way of peace.
     Lk 1.79, from the Benedictus Dominus Deus

...and on earth peace...
     Lk 2.14, from the Gloria in excelsis

...Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace...
     Lk 2.29, from the Nunc dimittis

– all of which find heavy liturgical usage, and two of which are echoed in the Evening Suffrages B (‘that thy holy angels may lead us in paths of peace and goodwill’ [bcp 68]). It is this peace in which (Prayers of the People, Forms V and VI, and Burial, Rite I [bcp 480]; Litany for Ordinations [bcp 527, 539]) and for which we so often pray: for the Church, for the world, for the departed, in our homes, in our hearts.

Our Lord gave many things to His followers: commandments to love, forgive, heal, go, baptize, teach, make disciples, and so forth; the power and authority to fulfill them; the Sacraments; the Church – all of which are in some sense the gift of Himself. But the greatest gift, underlying them all, we might say, is the ‘way of peace’, for Christ, the Prince of Peace (sar shalom, Is 9.6), is our peace (Ep 2.14ff) and the one through whom peace is made (Cl 1.20). He, says the Apostle, has reconciled men to one another and to God, preaching ‘peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near’ (cf. Is 57.19: ‘Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them.’)

It is this peace – wholeness, reconciliation, unity – that is proclaimed by the Celebrant at Mass, and that we then pass to one another and to the world. But lest our ‘peace’ be merely an absence of open conflict, or even worse a superficial greeting, we must do our part to live into it, which is why both individual and interpersonal reconciliation are requisite [Exhortation to the Eucharist, bcp 317, following Mt 5.23–24 and 1Co 11]. And so doing, we

let the peace of Christ dwell in [our] hearts,
to which indeed
[we] were called in the one body.
     Cl 3.15