This is the ninth of a series on why Lutherans worship the way we do, based on the book, Exploring our Lutheran Liturgy, by Dennis Fakes.
Following either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, we come to the Prayers of Intercession. These prayers of intercession followed the readings as early as the second century. In the East, by the end of the fourth century, these prayers had taken the form of a litany with biddings by the deacon. In the fifth century at Rome, the prayers were also in bidding form, with the presiding minister offering the final petition.
Today, the assisting minister leads the congregation’s intercessions. Through the reading and preaching of the Word of God, the people sense the need to seek God’s intervention in those distresses and challenges which confront the parish, the wider church, and the world. While much of the liturgy is devoted to the offering of prayers, these particular petitions are characterized by their explicit intent to seek God’s help and blessing upon all sorts of conditions of humanity. As such, these intercessions are as pointed and pertinent as the day’s news. Specific mention is made of persons, places, and predicaments in the world, the nation, the community and the parish. Of special concern is the Church in every place, its leaders and people, its life and mission. The petitions are brief and to the point.
The conclusion of the prayers, “Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray,” said by the presiding minister, recalls Jesus’ prayer on the cross (Luke23:46), and the final clause, “trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord” recalls such passages as 2 Corinthians 3:4 and psalm 52:8.
Following the example of our Lord after his resurrection, the presiding minister speaks the words of “The Peace.” These words take the congregation into that part of the service which is the climax of the liturgy, the Holy Communion. The Peace constitutes a most solemn prayer that all present will be granted that divine gift which passes all understanding. These are words of baptismal unity, reconciliation, mutual acceptance, and common resolve to work together in mission- a response to the gospel, in preparation for the holy meal. The Christians of the early church had their own form of exchanging the Peace- they called it the holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20).
This is not the time for being friendly. This is a sacrificial act. In the handshake of peace, we give up our hostilities and resentment; grudges and anger toward another. We ask God for wholeness for another. We ask God for true “shalom” for our sisters and brothers in the faith. “Peace be with you” are the words that are spoken during the exchange of the Peace. Using other greetings and engaging in other kinds of conversation will obscure and trivialize the meaning of these moments in the liturgy.
This is done prior to the offering coming from Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:23-24, “so when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that our brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”