Monday, October 17, 2016

The Peace of the Lord

Image result for passing the peace image

Old timers like me will remember when passing the peace was not a part of our Sunday liturgy at all. Although the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1547 called for passing the peace, three years later, the 1552 revision dropped the practice. After 427 years, the peace finally re-appeared in the revised Prayer Book of 1979. It seems now as if it’s here to stay, and with good reason.

Consider the placement of the Peace in our liturgy. It occurs after the prayers of the people and the confession of sin. It occurs, significantly, before the offering and before we prepare for Holy Communion. What does this tell us? Passing the peace is an act of reconciliation. It is a prayer of welcoming the stranger into our community and loving our neighbor. It is a shedding of our earthly concerns and needs, and, with fellow congregants, turning ourselves toward God.

When this practice appeared in 1979, some of the faithful objected to it, complaining that it disrupted the liturgy and drew their attention away from worship. We were meant to think only of God during the service. Any attention given to a fellow congregant was a “distraction” and had to be avoided.

Suddenly, or so it seemed, instead of gazing at the altar or reverently bowing our heads, we were looking in the faces of our neighbors and smiling and shaking hands. Passing the peace is nothing less than an intentional, choreographed distraction! What could this possibly have to do with worship? What do Jane and Michael and Peter and Robin have to do with my faith, my worship, my prayer?

At Baptism, we are made members of the household of God (BCP 308).  Colossians states
“…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
(3:14) Greeting each other in the name of the Lord does not diminish our attention to worship; it amplifies it. We worship on Sunday morning as the Body of Christ, as a corporate entity. By offering Christ’s peace to each other we are proclaiming this truth.

What sort of “peace” is it that we are passing? It’s more than an absence of war, it is much greater than a hope for the other’s comfort and happiness. And it’s a lot bigger than “Have a nice day.” Jesus says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus is not talking about the sort of peace that we can understand from our own experience. It is not a peace “as the world gives.” His peace points to him and to his kingdom which is both now and yet to come. We stake our claim to that kingdom both for ourselves and for each other when we pass the peace. This is God’s own peace, and it is ours to give and receive because of our life in the body of Jesus Christ.