I don’t know how services start in your church, but I wouldn’t change, for the world, the first few lines of our liturgy (Common Worship – Order 1).
After having affirmed that we meet in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we hear, and assent, to the ‘Divine Offering’ as the President / Celebrant greets the congregation with:
‘Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’
These words set the scene for the unfolding of the salvation story which is then, in word and sacrament, re-enacted week-by-week.
We need to fully appropriate these words as a community, for what they are actually describing is nothing other than this:
Salvation is the free offering by God (hence ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’).Salvation, it transpires, is offered in the here and now. Yes, the salvation story is perfected in the next life, when we join the ‘Communion of Saints,’ but as we begin to accept grace, mercy and peace in ‘real time’ we gain some understanding of the experience of eternity (equally if we reject grace, mercy and peace we also get a glimpse of eternity!).
Salvation is not a ‘thing’ or an event but a cocktail whose ingredients are grace, mercy and peace. But the ‘Divine Cocktail’ is the one drink that will never leave us thirsty, whilst paradoxically, always leave us thirsting for more.
But what are grace, mercy and peace?
Well, grace is nothing more that unmerited favour of God made known in and through Jesus. It is through Grace that sins are forgiven and, lives redeemed. The problem with Grace is that it demands humility, it focuses on mercy, rather than merit. Grace refuses to be impressed by mere human accomplishment!
Mercy is the quality of enduring Divine compassion expressed through God’s covenant relationship with undeserving people (you and me!). Mercy is made real when, according to Thomas Merton, all falsehoods and pretences are shed, when we stop all acts of measurement, when human value (both of ourselves and towards others) is seen in absolute, rather than relative terms. Mercy always discounts material differences between human beings. Mercy is the Divine quality that confirms person-hood, merit is the human metric which ranks each and every individual. Christianity is not in the least bit concerned with merit – certainly not in relation to salvation.
Peace is the state of harmony, made freely available to all believers, through coming into right relationship with God and,neighbour. Peace cannot be reduced, in Christian theology, to feelings. How important is peace ? Extremely! Jesus instructed the 72 to say ‘peace be with you,’ as their first utterance. In the post resurrection encounters he always began by greeting the disciples with ‘peace be with you.’ In the liturgy peace is the ‘repetitive offering’ (in the Greeting, before the Eucharist Prayer and in the words of the Dismissal). There is something about peace! Blessed are the peacemakers……
So salvation is offered each and every Sunday and, is characterised as shared grace, mercy and peace.
The offer we accept (salvation) at the beginning of worship subsequently becomes the mission imperative, the cocktail to be offered, which we all assent to in the dismissal: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’…….’in the name of Christ, Amen.’
How seriously do you and your church take the Divine offering? What cocktail is your church offering?