You may have noticed that on Communion Sundays we’ve begun to “pass the peace” with one another. I thought it might be helpful to give a little background and context to this practice of turning to those around you at church and exchanging some variation of the words “Christ’s peace be with you” and responding with something like: “And also with you.”
More than an opportunity to simply greet someone sitting near you, the passing of the peace has rich Christian meaning. It emulates the first words Jesus spoke when he appeared to his gathered followers after his resurrection (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26). When we extend the blessing of peace to one another, we extend the affirmation of Christ’s love and peace. In Matt. 10:12-14, Jesus sent his disciples out with the instruction: “As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.”
We observe the passing of the peace on Communion Sundays because we seek to embody the reconciliation and unity Jesus desires for us (John 17:21). It is on this day that we remind ourselves of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:23-24 that we should be reconciled to our brother and sister before approaching the altar to offer our gifts. The Didache, a late first-century Christian document, says in the context of the Lord’s Supper: “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned…” (Didache 14.2). When we extend the blessing of peace to one another, we make a profound statement of the possibility of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love in our world beginning in our Meetinghouse.
Scripture reveals that this is a Christian practice belonging to all branches of the Church. As we see in Rom. 16:16 and 1 Peter 5:14, it is one of the earliest rituals observed, a kiss in the Mediterranean cultures of the time being the equivalent of a handshake in contemporary American society. In this way we understand the practice
to be adjusted for cultural norms. At times like our current flu season, it is perfectly acceptable to visit the Purell dispenser at the back of the Meetinghouse before or after the exchange or to keep ones hands lowered and make only the verbal greeting.
I encourage you to embrace this practice that shapes our hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of Christ’s peace (Matt. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:20).
May the peace of Christ be with you,