The Passing of the Peace
Sharing peace with one another is an ancient Christian tradition,
not only in the words of Jesus, but also in the practices of the Christian community. Paul begins every one of his letters by saying, "Grace to you, and peace" (Romans 1:7; Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, etc.). This suggests that in the very early Church, "Grace to you and peace" was the way Christians greeted one another.
The Passing of the Peace is more than just a greeting
- it is a form of community-building. It is an opportunity to extend God's grace to one another in response to the grace that we all receive as members of the Body of Christ. In giving signs of peace to each other...while focusing our attention on the person to whom the peace is extended, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that are in Christ.
As we are passing the Peace in a worship liturgy, don't think of it as the intermission, or time-out, when we simply shake hands and say "hello." It is a time when we remember who we are: the reconciled people of God whom Jesus welcomes to his table with words of peace.
What if I am sick?
In my experience over the years, I have seen different symbols of peace being shared. I have served in churches where congregational members, for example, chose not to share the sign of peace at all as they were at higher risk. I have also seen people in the same circumstances or when they themselves were battling a cold choose, rather than a handshake:
- a “wave” of their hand
- placing their hand over their heart and nodding their head as they shared God’s peace
- holding their hands together as in prayer and bowing slightly
- remaining seated during this time and smiling at those who seek to share peace with a handshake
- shaking people’s hands and using their “hand sanitizer” prior to communion
The peace is a sign of the blessing and presence of God
, a sharing of the peace that comes only from God. What a beautiful thing! So the next time you are given the opportunity to Pass the Peace, be sensitive that some people may want to exchange peace using a different symbol and whatever symbol you use do so with love, and with an understanding of the great significance of this Peace of God.