Passing Peace

It’s happened hundreds of times. When the presider said the words, “The peace of Christ be with you,” we all responded, “And also with you,” and then we stood up to pass the peace to one another. “Peace be with you.” “And with you.” Over and over, grasping each other’s hands, giving one another a hug, gently smiling, reaching out. It happens this way every week on Wednesday evenings in my seminary chapel.

But this week, just an hour earlier, our buildings and the entire campus surrounding us had been on lock-down. Our doors had been shut and secured. Office lights had been turned off. Some were crammed together in a basement study room; others were crouched behind metal file cabinets. Those of us in the chapel closed our doors and continued to prepare for worship, unsure if anyone but ourselves would be able to come. I removed myself from the musicians practicing so that I could listen for the sound of approaching gunshots.

I’d received the email as the worship group rehearsed – there were reports of a shooter; everyone on campus should shelter in place. It was an hour before we were given the all clear, though we were told that one building remained under lock-down. At the time we began our worship service, we didn’t yet know that the whole situation had been prompted by a hoax report. So when helicopters continued to circle as we sang our opening song, and when sirens blared by as we said the Prayers of the People, I felt a prolonged sense of anxiety.

Then, near the beginning of the Communion liturgy, after the confession and pardon, we engaged in that ancient ritual of passing the peace. In that moment, it felt like a subversive act, a site of resistance to the atmosphere of violence we all breath. “Peace be with you,” said with both concern and sincerity. “And also with you,” spoken as we met each other eyes and touched each other’s hands.

Earlier, in her sermon on John 12:20-26, Dr. Nancy Bedford had exhorted us to look for Jesus in resistance to the “worldly” ways of empire and to follow in Jesus’ paradoxical and life-giving way. And even earlier in the day, thousands of teenagers had peacefully left their classrooms and demanded gun law reform, even in the midst of adults’ reprimands. Peace is not easy.

The Christian call to practice peace in the midst of what Jesus calls “the world” – the network of power centers that rule through military and economic might – is not new. The American worship of war and weapons is not the first imperial force Christians have had to contend with. When Jesus said the words “Peace be with you” in his resurrection appearances, he was offering a peace that flew in the face of Rome’s militarized “Pax Romana,” which ruled through subjugation and false security. Christ invites us into his radical peace, and it is not peace of passivity or of resignation. It is an active peace that reaches out in the midst of fear and violence and says, “I see Christ’s presence in you. I extend Jesus to you. I have chosen to give my life for your well-being.”

The later news that the report of an active shooter had been hoax does not change the poignancy of our passing the peace nor the world’s need for our witness. We still live in a profoundly broken world. We live in a world where, as my colleague Alexa points out, it was reasonable and likely for us to believe that someone had obtained a gun, shot their girlfriend, and intended to do further harm with it.  We live in a world where others have had to go through a similar experience, whether hiding in their schools from a gun or in their neighborhoods from a bomb.  We live in a world where violence is a punchline.

For all these reasons and more, Christ continues to call us to give our lives for the cause of peace that passes all understanding. Perhaps that is why we pass the peace every Sunday – to turn this ancient liturgy into muscle memory, so that our practice of peace will always be stronger than the world’s way of violence.

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Hymn of “I am”

In the spring, I was in a class entitled “Finding Words for Worship” taught by renowned hymnist and liturgist Dr. Ruth Duck.  We were all charged to try our hands at hymn writing, a task that made me profoundly nervous.  What I discovered, however, was that I found deep joy in crafting words to fit a tune.  Below is the hymn I wrote for the class.

Sung to the tune St. Columba (The King of Love my Shepherd Is, United Methodist Hymnal #138).

Based on Jesus’ I Am statements in the Gospel of John (chapters 6, 4, and 15).


I am the bread of life, my friends,

For hungry souls I’m broken.

My life I give to all who hear

And trust the Word I’ve spoken.


I am the well of truth, my friends,

Come taste the living water.

My Spirit will descend on you

And name you son and daughter.


I am the vine of love, my friends,

Your branches will I nourish.

In Love remain and make your home,

In Love will branches flourish.


I am the host who calls you friends:

Receive the meal I’ve given.

My life in you, your life in me

Will bring the feast of heaven.


© Cassidhe Hart, 2015.

Thursdays in the Lectionary – When They Were All Together in One Place

This week I’m at a the Forum for Theological Exploration‘s Christian Leadership Forum, and I’m part of the team preparing the Fourm’s times of worship.  Because Pentecost is this coming Sunday, our team decided to focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the sometimes difficult waiting we do in anticipation of that arrival.  We read this litany at our opening worship this morning, and it was my hope in writing it that it would prepare our hearts for the often surprising activity of the Spirit.      

When they were all together in one place, God of the unexpected, your people had no way of knowing what would happen next.

We have come together to be shaken out of our complacency.

When they were all together in one place, unimaginable God, you met your disciples there, right where they had gathered.

We have come together with empty hands and tired hearts, knowing that our desire to be present is enough.

When they were all together in one place, untamable God, you breathed into their beings a holy disorder, a sacred cacophony, a resurrected life that baffles, confuses, and invites us into new ways of knowing and being.

We have come together as people still learning how to let go of our plans and expectations to make way for your wild grace.

But God, we so often forget that the miracle of Pentecost came fifty days after the miracle of Easter. There were fifty days between an encounter with the empty tomb and the formation of a Spirit-filled community. We are impatient people, and we fill the quite spaces of our lives with attempts to capture you in words, in numbers, in progress reports and projected outcomes.

Give us humble spirits and fresh eyes to pay attention to your surprising acts of justice and mercy.

God, when we seek the presence of your Holy Spirit, you call us to gather together from our places of difference and listen—to you, to each other, to the longings you stir in us.

We have come together to wait.

Come Holy Spirit.

Amen.

For the times we are walking in the wilderness

A second litany for a second pop-up worship at my seminary.  The litany is based on themes from Isaiah 40:3-5 and the songs “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and “Guide My Feet, Lord.”  We closed with “We are Marching in the Light of God.”  See the first pop-up worship’s litany here.

You, uncontainable God, are always coming, always making way, always breaking in where we least expect you.  Wake us up to your arrival!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, life-giving God, come into our dried-up places and breathe out the miracle of your rejuvenating Spirit.  Walk with us in our wilderness!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, inviting God, pull us out of our pits of fear and set us on the road to freedom.  You call us as your way-makers–show us the roads that lead to you!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, persistent God, never leave us to travel alone.  We are held by your love and propelled by your justice with healing in our hands and fire in our hearts.  Fill us with your strength!

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we get stuck in worn-out daily liturgies, renew our practice of your presence.

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we are filled with dried-out words, ideas, and stories, bubble up in us your refreshing water of life.

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we are lost in rough relationships, redeem our interactions and re-orient our priorities.

Guide our feet, Lord. 

When we are confronted by uneven and unequal structures and systems, build us into your all-embracing family of shalom.

Guide our feet, Lord.

God, you are our road, our guide, and our final destination.  Bring us all into your glorious kingdom.

Guide our feet, Lord.

And all God’s people said,

Amen. 

A litany for difficult times in the semester …

I wrote this litany for a “pop-up worship” service in March.  A group of us entered the main atrium of our school and began an unexpected short service of lament, prayer, and hope.  These words also speak to the final push at the end of the school year … or at any other time and place of stress and difficulty.  The congregational response is intended to be simple enough for people to join in without written instructions.  

The word litany, by the way, comes from the Greek words for entreaty and supplicant.  Fitting for this particular piece.      

God of all the universe, we come to you heavy-hearted and light-headed, confused, distracted, and frustrated.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of our planet-home, we come carrying equal parts anxiety and hope, and we pray that they mix into some sort of faithful future.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of every creature, great and small, we want to live in your peace and justice, but sometimes the gap between our love and your love is just so great.

Lord, we cry to you.

God who dwells in the deep places of our hearts, we want to obey your call to “be not afraid,” and so we cry out, “Lord, I believe!  Help my unbelief!”

Lord, we cry to you. 

God of every moment, we feel your insistent presence in the beauty of a birdsong, the smile of a friend, and the warmth of a blanket, and we praise you for the small things.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of the pilgrim way, we thank you that you have brought us this far and rejoice in the call you have given us.

Lord, we cry to you.

God who holds our time in your hands, we know that you promise never to abandon us, and we pray for an enlivened sense of your presence with us.

Lord, we cry to you.

God, our beginning and our end, keep pulling us into your story of salvation, keep reminding us of our own belovedness, and keep sustaining our steps as we walk into your kingdom.  And all God’s people said:

Amen.