I don’t remember exactly how the Big Camping Fight started. It was late on a Friday night, and we were scheduled to leave for a camping trip early the next morning. Bill couldn’t find the poles for the tent; I had forgotten to buy batteries for the flashlights; and Jacob, then just a toddler, had ripped into our food bag like a hungry baby raccoon.
As it got later, more and more things went wrong, and Bill and I each thought the other was at fault. We both yelled. I cried. And by the time we put Jacob to bed and started tying our duffle bags onto the roof of the car, we weren’t speaking at all.
We packed in silence for at least an hour. I was so upset I couldn’t think of anything to say. While I knew that I should say I was sorry, I felt that Bill should apologize first, because while I hadn’t behaved perfectly, he was more in the wrong. The longer we went without talking, though, the bigger the gulf between us seemed. By the time my anger had cooled enough for me to begin thinking of apologizing first, the words didn’t seem large enough to cover an entire evening ruined.
“Peace be with you,” is what I finally said, extending my hand to Bill. He looked surprised, but returned my handshake with an embrace.
“Peace,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
In the years since that night, we’ve used a sign of peace in a similar way a handful of times. Sometimes Bill has initiated it, sometimes I have, but regardless of who has been the first to extend the hand, our signs of peace in the kitchen, the family room, and the garage have brought more meaning to our Signs of Peace in church.
The sign of peace offers more to the other person than a simple apology. Peace, as given by Christ, is a gift. An offer of peace does not so much seek to retract angry words as it seeks to establish something new and better. A sign of peace, genuinely given, brings Christ into a situation.
While smaller disagreements warrant a quick apology and equally quick forgiveness, larger or more hurtful arguments should remind us that we have, at least momentarily, moved away from God’s love. And as we realize that we have separated ourselves from God, we understand that we must rebuild. Jesus’ first words to his disciples after his Crucifixion and Resurrection were “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ starting point can be our own.
In the liturgy, the prayer that directly precedes the Sign of Peace asks Jesus, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.”
Essentially in this prayer we’re asking Jesus to look past our sins, to focus on our good parts—our faith—and to give us a slice of heaven on earth. It’s a gutsy request. But it’s a request that also requires action on the part of the congregation. After the prayer the presider says, “Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace.”
With that sentence our bold prayer for the peace and unity of Christ’s kingdom is tied inextricably with our own offering of peace to one another.
And so we turn to our neighbors and offer peace, believing that somehow Christ is present in these handshakes and hugs. We offer each other peace believing that the kingdom has already begun. A kingdom not just of stained glass and songbooks and statues, but also of tents and poles and missing batteries.
by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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