War, Peace, and the Kingdom of God

Last week, I attended two training programs – one on running a sanctuary church during civil unrest, the other a refresher course on conducting a Eucharistic liturgy. The two programs could not be further apart from each other in intent. Yet again, they may have been about the very same things.

St. John’s has volunteered to be a sanctuary church in preparation for the potential unrest when the grand jury announcement is made about the Michael Brown killing. St. John’s is half a block from the corner of Grand and Arsenal, which was the scene of protester/police confrontations over the killing of VonDerrit Myers Jr. at Shaw Ave., barely three weeks after the Brown killing.

A sanctuary church is a safe zone for demonstrators who want to get away from the street action for a while. We provide an oasis of safety with coffee, toilets, electrical outlets to recharge cell phones, medical assistance, even counseling and chaplaincy. It is in the great tradition of our faith to provide such hospitality to wayfarers and strangers without judgment or prejudice. We have designated certified people in medical training to be our medics, as well as people who will be site director, site communications, chaplain, etc. Some supplies have already been delivered, and more are on the way.

About the same time we expect the grand jury decision to come down, the Diocese of Missouri will be ordaining six people to the Order of Deacon. I happen to be one of those people. Deacon Harry Leip conducted a refresher course for us at Trinity-Central West End on the role of the deacon in liturgy, along with real nuts-&-bolts demonstrations on how to set the altar, handle a thurible, etc. We also discussed the ordination celebration itself. We even spent a bit of time actually practicing the preparation of the altar for the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the core and center of our liturgical life – it is the sacrament created by Jesus on the eve of his death, and it is where the faith community gathers to partake of his body and blood so that we may become the Body of Christ. A deacon’s role in the Eucharistic meal is to proclaim the Gospel, proclaim the Prayers of the People, set the table for the Eucharist, and send the community forth into the world to be leaven in the world.

The first training program was about war, the second about peace. The more I ponder over them, the more they seem to be about the same things – they are about the Kingdom of God and communion.

The church must be about the business of creating the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Kingdom is about justice and peace simultaneously – we cannot have one without the other. Deacons know this well; our order was created to resolve an injustice, create peace, and further the Kingdom of God (Acts 6).

A sanctuary is a Kingdom-of-God-zone where all people are welcomed as children of God and treated as such. They are our brothers and sisters, and we are in communion with them, even if this may be the first time they realize it. When a refugee from the streets enters our sanctuary, the coffee and bandages and pastoral care they receive is a direct extension of the Eucharistic meal we celebrate every Sunday morning. As we celebrate community with the body and blood of Christ on Sunday morning, we celebrate community with the food and care provided by the Body of Christ to our guests the rest of the week.

This care and concern does not excuse injustice. Forgiveness alone is not justice. Amnesia is not justice. The status quo is not justice. We know that we can never have peace if there is no justice. There should not be peace so long as there is injustice. We also will work to change these unjust structures as we have promised in the Fourth Mark of Mission. And while we do so, we will offer sanctuary and communion to all brothers and sisters of peace, as long it is in our power to do so.

So, perhaps the preparations for unrest and the preparation for the Eucharist are much the same thing. They are both about the Kingdom; they are both about communion.

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