"Peace Be With You"
The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend. We were wondering when the practice of “Passing The Peace” began at our churches. I still can’t remember exactly when it began at my church but my best guess would be the late 1970s.
Just in case someone who is reading this is unfamiliar with “Passing The Peace”, it is a practice that takes place during a section of the liturgy in our Sunday morning traditional worship services The pastor says to the congregation: "The peace of the Lord be with you always" and then the congregation responds "And also with you." The congregation is then invited to "share the peace" with one another.
In some churches, worshippers simply turn to those sitting nearby and offer a smile and a handshake with the words “peace be with you” but, in others, worshippers move out of the pews/chairs, extending this sharing of God’s peace to many.
Sharing God’s peace is not simply offering a friendly hello to those sitting around you. Sharing God’s peace is not a time for catching up on your friend’s latest news or for reminding someone about an upcoming meeting. “Passing the peace” is an act of reconciliation that serves as a transition point between the Word and Meal portions of the liturgy. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount lays a foundation for the practice of sharing God’s peace. "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
Back when my church began “Passing the Peace” in worship, it was a rather awkward time for many worshippers – myself included. But, these days, most of those in my congregation are much more comfortable with it. In fact, on many Sunday mornings, it goes on for several minutes.
When we pass the peace in worship, we don’t reach out only to those we know or feel comfortable with. We pass the peace to anyone seated near us. I notice that some in my congregation actually search out those they don’t know in order to allow them to feel welcomed and connected to our congregation. What if, rather than seeing this as a part of worship on Sunday, we could see passing the peace as how we are in the world?
The divisions that are growing in our communities and nation sadden me. What if everywhere we went, we went with an attitude of passing the peace. If everyone we found ourselves with, whether we knew them or not, whether we felt comfortable with them or not, we would pass the peace in whatever way seemed appropriate – with an extended hand or a smile, with either spoken or unspoken words.
We do not need to wait to come to church on Sunday morning in order to make peace with our neighbors and our family members. Sharing God’s peace is a daily opportunity.
Jesus taught, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)