This one minute of community always left me with a feeling that the other 59 minutes did not. I looked forward to it, and when it was over I missed it a little. No matter what was going on in our lives, for a brief moment we turned to each other and personified the best of what we professed to believe. Peace be with you.
Many Sundays, when my father was not acting as lector or Eucharistic minister, I would stand next to him waiting for this wink of goodwill. The priest would say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always" and my ears pricked up. I knew that soon I would hear my dad say, in the impossible combination of gravity and lightness that is his voice, "Peace of Christ."
He was the only one I ever heard say it that way. I never asked him why he chose to say peace of Christ instead of peace be with you, but I knew there must be a good reason and that was enough for me. He is serious about words. He chooses them wisely and well.
Peace of Christ. Peace of Christ. It's been a long time since I've stood next to him at mass, a long time since I've heard him say it. But lately, I've found myself wondering about it a lot.
After the Beirut and Paris attacks in November, I got pretty angry. A lot of people got angry. The people whose better angels are perhaps a little stronger than mine admonished that fury and implored all of us raging folks not to lose our humanity.
Well, here's the thing. When people get hurt I get scared and I swear. I swear loudly. I dropped some seriously powerful F-bombs at brunch one day when Gogo fell backwards in her chair and hit her head. (I know. I know. It's awful. Impulse control, even in fine restaurants, is not one of my spiritual gifts.) A few years ago, when my husband had a bike accident and broke his ribs my initial response to him when he called me from the emergency room was, "What the hell? WHAT THE HELL?!" These explosions aren't directed toward anyone. They are just blown out into the void, or in the case of one Sunday, into the ears of some poor brunchers who were just trying to enjoy a nice meal.
My very human reaction to fear is anger, and from what I've observed I'm not exactly alone there. When I get angry I am not losing my humanity.For better or worse, I am expressing it. Now, as my dad would say, listen to this because it's going to be very profound. (That usually got a laugh from his students, but it was also usually true.) It's where my humanity chooses to go next that is important.
Ephesians 4:26 tells us, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger."
You might think six years of Catholic school turned me into a real Bible scholar. It didn't. I did learn the liturgy of the mass backwards and forwards, but then they went and changed that a few years ago, and I can't seem to get the hang of it. I still stumble around the words like a Protestant visiting her Catholic cousins. Basically, when it comes to theology, I don't know much, but I know what I like.
"Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger." I like that.
Jesus got angry. Yes,the rock star of peacemakers got angry. His human side sometimes got the best of him. When he cleared the temple of money-changers and animal-sellers he didn't just politely ask them to leave, he mopped the floor with those people. When the Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus breaking the laws of the Sabbath by healing the man with the shriveled hand in the synagogue, he lowered the hammer. Jesus. Was. Pissed. But his anger wasn't malice. It wasn't vengeance. Jesus' anger was righteous and it did not linger. His humanity chose to go to better places.
It's Christmastime in an angry world. It's Christmastime in a frightened world. We're angry about guns and frightened of terrorism. We're angry about the angry people running for president. We're afraid of each other and angry at each other, and some of us are even a little afraid and angry at ourselves.
We trash each other's religions though we know little about them. We trash each other's politics because maybe we know too much. We're afraid of everything that is wrong, but we can't seem to stop being angry long enough to make things right. Our anger and our fear aren't leading us anywhere. We haven't lost our humanity, but our humanity is stuck.
Whether you, like I do, call him the Son of God or whether you believe he was simply a man, I think we can all agree that the Jesus we acknowledge on Friday was the best of the stand-up guys. By nature of his humanity, he was not perfect. He got angry and despaired in the world around him, but he never got stuck there. He called for justice, kindness, nonviolence, and yes, for peace. He had faith that our better angels could be stronger than our hatred. He put love into the world and commanded it to grow.
My dad used to say, "Peace of Christ." I liked the way he said it, like it was a fact, something he was sure of. I think I understand now what he meant. He was saying, "I see you. Keep trying. If you get angry, do good. Love."
I don't care what you celebrate this time of year. I don't care if you believe Jesus' birth was both human and divine or just a nice story. I don't care if you say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." I don't care what religion you are or if you're no religion at all. I sure as hell don't care about your politics. But I care about you, and all I want to say to you right now is I understand your anger and fear. You're not alone. I understand you feel stuck there sometimes. You're not alone there either. All I want to say is keep trying. See the good in people even when you have to look very hard. See the good in yourself. Love each other.
All I want to say is, Peace of Christ.