I remember a play-fight a classmate and I had with each other in the fall of 1960. We were in the fourth grade. We acted out our parents’ allegiance for different candidates in the upcoming Presidential election: he was for Kennedy; I was for Nixon. We were laughing with each other as we wrestled, and in the course of the scrum the small telescope he was holding accidentally hit me on the forehead. We were both surprised at the sizable lump it created (it looked worse than it felt); and somehow we came to an immediate but unspoken realization that our friendship was more important than our difference, and we continued walking together.
Fifty-six years later, I yearn to see some play-fighting as we prepare to elect our next President, but I don’t think anyone has had any evidence of it. The insults, threats and accusations have been ugly and vicious. There is nothing playful about it. Hardly anyone is laughing. A winner will be declared in the wee hours of November 8, and while there may be some relief that the presidential sweepstakes is over, there will no doubt be lumps and scars to deal with. And the fear and anger—so viscerally present during the run-up to Election Day, may spill out in some nasty ways. The wounds will linger. It is hard to imagine, at least in some quarters, that people will realize that friendship – or at least mutual respect, will be more important than difference.
This is where the Christian faith, particularly as we live it out as Episcopalians, comes in.
We can start with the exchange of the Peace. Before it became a celebration of community (which is a pleasant and unintended consequence) the exchange of the Peace was intended as an act of reconciliation. Its roots are embedded in Matthew’s Gospel: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5: 23-24).
The exchange of the Peace is a visible witness to the commitment we make as Christians, that whatever has separated us can be brought back together in the reconciling love of Christ. The exchange of the Peace doesn’t smooth over difference (thank God, because we need to honor our difference), but it can heal division. And since we can’t presume that people in congregations vote the same way, there may be some painful divisions in our church communities, rendered more stark by the cruel cacophony that we can’t seem to escape. So make peace with one another. Especially make peace with the person you don’t want to make peace with. It may not cure the rift, but it will help heal it. The ritual of the Peace has the capacity to take us to places our psyches may not yet be ready to go.
We can practice the Peace as a ritual of reconciliation in our churches, but don’t leave it there. Bring it out into the world. In Luke 10, Jesus instructs his disciples – who are being sent out – to say “Peace to this house” (Luke 10:5). We were deputized as disciples at our baptism – and as such, we need to be bearers of peace and agents of reconciliation. Especially now. If you feel confident, offer the peace aloud – to a house or a group of people. Or to someone. If not aloud, then mutter or at least silently pray it. God needs to us join God in engaging in the hard work of reconciliation.
In the aftermath of the election our psyches will no doubt be operating on full throttle, and there will the temptation to either be filled with righteousness (“my candidate won, so I’m right”) or a desire for recrimination (“my candidate lost, so you’re wrong”).
Don’t fall for it.
Exchange the peace with yourself or with God. Spasms of self-righteousness and fits of recrimination only add to the poison, and there is enough out there as it is. We are meant to walk together, to work together, to share this fragile earth our island home together. Celebrating our differences, and reconciling divisions. God needs our help.
I encourage congregations to have their church doors open on Election Day and the day after. I invite congregations to join with many churches around the diocese in offering prayer vigils. (See Resources for Election Season in our diocesan Liturgical Resources.) And let us all reclaim the ancient intent of the exchange of Peace – as an act of reconciliation.