Does your church have a time of greeting during worship? What do you do? Why do you do it?
I’ve been in churches where this time was a time to say hello to the people around you. This always seemed odd to me, didn’t we say hello when we came in and sat next to each other? Sometimes this time gets used to introduce visitors to the congregation as well. An exercise in anxiety and discomfort for introverts. A time of greeting can seem like a sort of intermission -time to stand up, stretch and chat.
In more liturgical churches this time is even more odd. Instead of saying normal things, like “hello”; we say “The Peace of Christ be with you”. That is such an odd thing to say to someone “The Peace of Christ be with you.” Who are you and I to say such a thing?
But now, after months and years of saying this odd thing, it doesn’t seem so odd. Now it seems odd not to. If I am in a worship service where there is not passing of the peace, I actually miss it.
It is a strange and unique time of the week. And it seems odd that we could be allowed to pass Christ’s peace around. Why would we do that? How could we do that?
In my tradition the passing of the peace comes right after confession and the assurance of forgiveness. We have as a community and as individuals confessed our sin, we have recalled and repented of the times and ways we have separated ourselves from God’s desires for us. Then we together and out loud remember and claim that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are forgiven. And so we are at peace. We have Christ’s peace. How could we not share that? How could we not greet each other in the name of Christ? How could we not be reconciled to each other? What a wonderful and yes, odd thing to do.
This isn’t trivial. To gladly offer Christ’s peace to someone you don’t know and to mean it takes some intentionality. To offer Christ’s peace to someone you may not particularly like and to mean it can be challenging. If you and a loved one have had a difficult morning or a difficult weekend or a difficult week when tempers have been short and feelings have been hurt- to offer Christ’s peace to them and to mean it is not easy. To receive Christ’s peace is not easy. But it is healing.
If you are not used to it, the passing of the peace can be awkward, at least for a while. But the good news is that Jesus can pop up anywhere, even in the awkward moments of life.
The passing of the peace has changed me. Slowly, very slowly, perhaps even imperceptibly slowly. The act of giving and receiving the peace of Christ in this formal ritual opens me to the possibility to give and receive the peace of Christ in informal and casual ways. The ritual tells me that it is okay and allowed and even encouraged to take the peace of Christ into the world and to give it away. This ritual encourages me to receive Christ’s peace where ever I encounter it and to receive it from whomever is offering it. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I am not paying attention. Sometimes I can’t. And sometimes (Lord forgive me) I won’t. But each week, I am reminded of Christ’s peace. Each week I offer and receive Christ’s peace. And I am grateful. The peace of Christ be with you.