Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Peace of Christ to You

My church began including “The Passing of the Peace” in our worship services either shortly before or shortly after I came here. Some people fear this kind of greeting for several reasons. I personally love what this worship practice means; but I also understand that what should be a holy time in worship can easily be reduced to mere social interaction. It can get that way when we forget, misunderstand, or miscommunicate what it is for. I found the following explanation on the web-site of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and found it to be a wonderfully concise description of the origins and proper decorum of this act of Christian worship.

The passing of the Peace has its origins … in the New Testament. In the letters of St. Paul there are several references to greeting one another with “a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). In the worship of the early church this took on a specific function in the liturgy. Usually it occurred after the sermon or just before the distribution of communion. Its function was to visibly demonstrate that all who were present were one in the faith and that no sin stood in the way of their unity.

Of course, over time the actual kiss of peace has given way to either a handshake or an embrace. The purpose, however, is the same: a visible demonstration that we are members of the one body of Christ. Because we have been reconciled to the Father through the death of His Son, we therefore are also reconciled with one another.

… What it is not is a time to say “howdy” to everyone, or to talk about what you’ll be doing after church. A congregation probably needs occasional reminders that the purpose of passing the peace is to demonstrate that we are members of Christ’s body. At first, it can be uncomfortable for some, and understandably so. But it can have some tremendous benefits. Consider this: what if you don't want to share the peace with the person sitting in front of you because you are mad at that person for something he did to you or said about you? The fact that you don't even want to shake hands with that person would suggest that indeed there is a need for reconciliation to take place –a gift that God freely offers through His Son.

The passing of the peace has some obvious benefits, but a congregation must be taught what these are and then encouraged to live in that peace of God as they share it with each other.

By touching people, looking them in the eye, and blessing them with the peace of Christ, I remember that worship does not belong to me or to my personal agenda, but rather is about participating with others in an encounter with the living Christ. Each person gathered for worship helps others to worship … or that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The peace of Christ to you ...

That’s enough to think about for now.


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