From time to time, both in Musings and during our Sunday worship, I’m beginning an ongoing series of short teachings called “Why Do We Do That?” Most of us recognize that nearly everything we do in our Sunday worship has a rationale or reason, and is often ancient in origin. Why Do We Do That? is meant to offer a brief explanation of different elements of our common worship.
A good place for us to start is with practice known as the Peace or the Passing of the Peace. What’s up with that, and why do we do it?
The Peace is perhaps the most ancient of everything we do in church! We find hints of the Peace within the NT itself, such as 2 Corinthians 13:12 “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” Romans 16:16, and others. The Didache, an early worship manual dating back as far as 80AD, contains instructions for the Passing of the Peace in worship. Now that is old!
But what does the Peace signify? We have (thankfully) left the kissing part behind in favor of more culturally acceptable forms of greeting, but what meaning does the Peace have for us today?
I found the following excerpts from an article by Morgan Clark at http://www.seedbed.com/why-pass-peace/ to be helpful.
Each Sunday in Anglican churches and other liturgical churches, people take part in a practice called the “passing of the peace.” Sandwiched between the liturgy of the Word (the Scripture readings, sermon, and prayers) and the liturgy of the Table (Eucharist), these few moments look different in every church. Whatever this time looks like though, the theme of peace is central.
While the passing of the peace has become a time of greeting and fellowship in many churches, the theological significance of these moments extends beyond handshakes and hugs. Within Anglican services, the passing of the peace comes immediately after a time of corporate confession and absolution. The whole congregation confesses their sin to God and cries out for mercy together. Then the priest stands and declares God’s word of forgiveness over the congregation. The community has peace with God. But what about each other?
After the priest declares God’s act of forgiveness, she or he says “The peace of the Lord be always with you”, to which the congregation responds “And also with you”. Having made peace with God, the congregation is now instructed to reconcile with each other before taking communion together.
The Table of the Lord is not a meal eaten among enemies but among family and friends. Because of this, the passing of the peace is not a nicety or passive moment; it is a bold act of declaring our reconciliation as children of God. And this is not easy. Healing wounds, hurts and broken relationships is a difficult task, but it was the task of the Cross. And each time we make peace with each other, we point to that triumph of love. Not only have we been reconciled to God; we have been reconciled to each other.
This peace and reconciliation should not be restricted to Sundays though. Peace is made through the smallest actions throughout the week. If we are to be a people of peace, our daily lives must be marked with this peace. There is nothing particularly special about this peace, but then again, there is something profoundly significant about it as well.
Choosing the peace of Christ comes in the most normal moments of a day through the most common ways, but it points to the extraordinary power of the gospel, the story of God reconciling his people to himself and to each other. When you make peace with someone, you tell this story.
Let the peace that guides us to the Table of the Lord be the same peace that guides us to our lunch tables, desks, and kitchen counters. Wherever we go is a place where the peace of Christ can be shared.
So there you have it. More than just a casual greeting or a chance to say hello, the Peace is a profound act pointing to and sharing in the reconciling work of Christ. It is not our own peace we share, but His – the peace which derives only in and through our relationship with Christ. It is a peace we are called to live out the rest of the week.
At CTR as in many smaller congregations, there is a tendency and desire to “get to” everybody who is there during the Peace. I understand the desire, but am resistant to the idea. Turning the Peace into wanting to say hello to everyone changes what the Peace is intended to be. As we continue to grow, reaching everyone will soon become impossible without causing a long interruption in the service.
Rather than trying to greet everyone, perhaps this Sunday you could seek out someone you don’t know well, or someone you have had a few ‘bumps’ with in the past. This is harder, but comes closer to what the Peace is meant to be about!
See you Sunday!