Today in Rothesay, the vestry had a conversation about the peace: what works, what doesn’t; things we might do differently.
There seems to be no bit of the liturgy as likely to cause conflict as the peace. But today’s conversation was interesting, because Rothesay is not, on the face of it, one of those congregations in which the peace is politely endured. It is jolly. It seemed to be working. And yet, it seems that for many, it still causes tension.
Now, that’s a fairly easy situation to deal with, and we found a way forward. But the conversation led me to another question. Who decides what a liturgical action means?
I have often assumed that the main ‘problem’ with the peace is that people misunderstand it. It gets confused with ‘saying good-morning’ and is perceived as a social intrusion on an otherwise sacred time. So, I find myself defending the peace as a liturgical action: pointing out that it is an important sign of the communal nature of our worship — that the eucharist is not about ‘me and God’, but ‘us and God’. We need it precisely because it might interrupt our private train of thought before we approach the altar. We need it because it connects us with the body of Christ, which is the church, before we receive the body of Christ in the eucharist.
And I believe all that.
And I remember the people who have quietly worked their way into my life though that simple weekly action of turning to each other and saying ‘peace be with you.’
But if this only becomes clear through explanation, is it still true?
I have always assumed that the underlying theology of liturgy is where the truth lies. And I therefore think that it’s important for congregations to talk about the liturgy, study it, and explore meanings. But today I wonder: where does the truth lie when there is a repeated gap between the theologian’s explanation and the congregation’s experience?