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I like 12 minute Episcopal homilies.

No time for fooling around. Just get to the point. And since that point can show up at any time, I have to be paying attention.

Paying attention to sermons is new for me. In the past my mind would often wander because my mind tends to do that during a 45 minute Sunday morning “sermon”/lecture/doctrinal beat down/look-at-how-much-I-know session.

In a way, I miss those days. I got some of my best writing ideas daydreaming. And those times when I was paying attention, long sermons allowed me to flex my judgmental muscles, thinking of all the ways that, if I were preaching on that verse, it would be so much better.

Don’t judge me too hard for that last part. I learned that in my seminary “how to preach” classes. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Listen to your classmate preach (badly) and then “evaluate” the sermon, which means rip it to shreds. It’s like asking wolves to “evaluate” that sheep over there tied to a post.

Where was I? Oh yes. I like Episcopal sermons because they are short and I pay attention–and that increases the possibility that I will learn something. Which happened today.

I learned why we do that thing every week that is so horrible for introverts: “exchanging the peace.”

My chest tightened just typing that. Can’t I just nod to you across the aisle (“We’re good, right”?). I mean, I never did anything to you? Why all the touching and eye contact and talking?

Today’s homily was on John 20:19-29, Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to his frightened disciples. I never made the connection before, but three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

“Peace” is not the absence of warfare or conflict. After the second “Peace be with you,” Jesus breathes on the disciples, which echoes the Adam story and the reviving of the “dry bones” in Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 37).

Breathing symbolizes the divine giving of life, of new life, one marked by the presence of resurrection. So when we exchange the peace before the Eucharist, we are acknowledging the reality of that new God-given life in ourselves and in others to which the Eucharist points.

I still don’t like doing it but at least I know what’s going on–and I can feel guilty about not liking it for the right reasons.


Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.