Many have noticed that we have brought back an earlier tradition to our order of worship in our Sunday morning Traditional worship service in the Sanctuary — the Passing of the Peace. While Passing the Peace, at first glance, feels like just a way of creating a friendly and welcoming environment, the theological significance of this part of the worship service extends far beyond its handshakes and hugs.
Did you know that Passing the Peace is actually one of the earliest liturgical practices in worship? This simple ritual provides us with an essential reminder that we who are followers of Christ are called to be peacemakers, striving to live in peace with one another.
“The peace of Christ be with you.”
“And also with you.”
What more significant words do we as a people of faith need to hear in a society that seems determined to pull us apart from one another? These words we say to one another as part of our worship experience is our declaration that the presence of Christ is given to us as individuals, and experienced in community, as we go about our sacred tasks of reconciliation, justice, and compassion.
One of the most difficult passages in the Bible is the one where Jesus says, “Wherever two or more of you are gathered, there I am with you.” If we cannot be in a peaceful relationship with one another — a relationship created by our shared love for God through Christ — as a faith community, then how can we be able to be a people of peace?
Far beyond just a cheerful welcome (which is definitely not a bad thing) or a brief time to catch up with an old acquaintance (also not a bad thing), Passing the Peace during worship is in itself a symbol of who we are.
In worship, we deal with a lot of symbolism. We celebrate Holy Communion and how it nourishes us, even though that pinch of bread and sip from the cup is not literally enough to nourish our bodies. In a similar way, Passing the Peace of Christ to those worshiping alongside us does not literally work out our quarrels or bring about reconciliation in strained relationships. But it does serve as a reminder to us of God’s will for us, just as surely as the communion elements remind us of God’s will for us to strive for reconciliation and peace in our relationships with one another. Week after week, we offer signs of peace as our “Yes!” to that call from Jesus as the symbolic expression of our own desire to engage in reconciliation in order to live the peace Christ modeled and invites us to live out in our day-to-day lives.