Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a way to begin a letter! Perhaps, like me, you receive voluminous e-mails daily, many unwanted and unsolicited. Yet I also receive personal notes that, despite the intervention of a machine, provide a sense of connection to distant friends and colleagues. Some of these letters close with “Grace and peace.”
Today a common practice in many Christian churches is “the exchange of peace,” or “passing the peace.” In my Episcopal church, we exchange peace with the words: “Peace be with you” or “The peace of the Lord be with you” as we clasp hands, hug, or even plant a “holy kiss” on the cheek of the other person. At the end of the service, a deacon sends us into the world with the words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” In offering peace to others, we also point them to the incarnate Christ, who is our peace.
The church in Thessalonica grows and flourishes, despite problems and hostility from non-Christian Thessalonians. What an inspiring portrait of a Christian church! Paul is moved to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for this vital community. Like the Thessalonian Christians, we too can flourish through grace freely given to us by God through Jesus Christ. We are enabled to live a life of faith, love, and steadfastness, especially during times of suffering, hostility, and persecution. Grace renews, transforms, and leads us to wholeness.
Just think of what could happen not only in our congregations but in our world if we demonstrated abundant faith in God and love for one another.
In what ways do you extend grace and peace to all, not just to members of your church but especially to those who suffer and the strangers you encounter daily? Before attending your next worship service, reflect on the practice of exchanging the peace.
Habakkuk stands aghast at the “destruction and violence” all around and wonders how justice never seems to conquer. At the end of the reading, God contrasts the proud, whose spirit “is not right in them,” with the righteous who live by faith. The psalmist delights in God’s righteousness and in the commandments of God; however, he admits that “I am small and despised.” The psalmist’s “trouble and anguish” appear in Second Thessalonians also, but here the “persecutions and the af ictions” endured by the faithful serve a particular end: They stand as signs of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel reading Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house,” which reminds us that the righteous who live by faith are not necessarily the socially or religiously acceptable.
• Read Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4. What situations in your life and world cause you to cry out to God, “How long?”?
• Read Psalm 119:137-144. Who have you known who trusts God implicitly? How has that person’s example helped you in the past? How might you let it help you in the future?
• Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12. How will you offer Christ’s peace to someone you meet today?
• Read Luke 19:1-10. Jesus’ interaction caused Zacchaeus to trust God and straighten out his life. Where and with whom might God be leading you to share with others the heart of Christ?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.