During the worship services at St. Peter’s, the presiding minister offers these words: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The congregation responds “And also with you.” The members of the congregation are then invited to “share the peace” with one another. What does this really mean?
Passing the peace is a practice that has been recorded in the Didache, an early Christian writing nearly as old as many of the New Testament writings. Here the Christian community is encouraged to “come together on the Lord’s day, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone who has a quarrel with his fellow should not gather with you until he has been reconciled, lest your sacrifice be profaned.” The significance of the peace continues in our worship today.
At times the peace acts as a capstone to the Word section of our traditional worship services. Here the sharing of the peace begins the work of reconciliation taught to us through the life and words of Christ Jesus and other stories of the faith made known to us in the readings for the day. We often hear words during these readings that call for us to make peace with those whom we love, whether we see eye to eye or not. The passing of the peace acts (somewhat summarily) as a first step of putting those teachings into action. The peace is also occasionally offered near the beginning of services, a grace-filled way to begin the morning.
That the sharing of the peace traditionally follows the prayers of the church is not an accident. As a gathered people, we pray for peace in the Church, the world, and for all those in need. Following that, the people actually offer that peace and reconciliation to one another; words translate into immediate action! The real surprise here is that this is not human peace alone, but the peace which is possible only through Christ. At communion services the gathered people then receive the gift of Christ’s true presence through the sharing of the Eucharist meal. So, not only is the peace a capstone to the Word section of our worship, but also an introduction to the Meal section of the service where the means of grace are offered to us in the body and blood of Christ Jesus.
It turns out there is much that happens during the passing of the peace in our services.
As more than a chance to catch up with one another, we share the peace as a weekly reminder of the reconciliatory work that must be done in all facets of our lives. This is work that doesn’t end. As followers of Christ, we are called to offer this peace at all times to all people. We would do well to mimic Paul’s words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”