Why Do We Pass the Peace?

Why Do We Pass the Peace?

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Each Sunday in Anglican churches and other liturgical churches, people take part in a practice called the “passing of the peace.” Sandwiched between the liturgy of the Word (the Scripture readings, sermon, and prayers) and the liturgy of the Table (Eucharist), these few moments look different in every church. For highly formal churches and cathedrals, this time is brief, with people greeting those around them with the simple words “peace be with you”. In more informal churches, this time may take 5 minutes, with each person making sure that they greet everyone in the congregation before the pastor attempts to guide them back to their seats. Whatever this time looks like though, the theme of peace is central.

While the passing of the peace has become a time of greeting and fellowship in many churches, the theological significance of these moments extends beyond handshakes and hugs. Within Anglican services, the passing of the peace comes immediately after a time of corporate confession and absolution. Often in a kneeling position, the whole congregation confesses their sin to God and cries out for mercy together. Then the priest stands and declares God’s word of forgiveness over the congregation. The community has peace with God. But what about each other?

After the priest declares God’s act of forgiveness, she or he says “The peace of the Lord be always with you”, to which the congregation responds “And also with you”. Having made peace with God, the congregation is now instructed to reconcile with each other before taking communion together. The Table of the Lord is not a meal eaten among enemies but among family and friends. Because of this, the passing of the peace is not a nicety or passive moment; it is a bold act of declaring our reconciliation as children of God. And this is not easy. Healing wounds, hurts and broken relationships is a difficult task, but it was the task of the Cross. And each time we make peace with each other, we point to that triumph of love. Not only have we been reconciled to God; we have been reconciled to each other.

This peace and reconciliation should not be restricted to Sundays though. Peace is made through the smallest actions throughout the week. Speaking of the moments of peace-making within her own life, Tish Harrison Warren writes,

“’Peace of Christ to you’ is instantiated as I hand my toddler carrot sticks, respond patiently to Jonathan (her husband) when I feel slighted, or genuinely celebrate a friend’s upcoming vacation even though I’d never be able to afford it myself. Ordinary love, anonymous and unnoticed as it is, is the substance of peace of earth, the currency of God’s grace in our daily life”.[1]

If we are to be a people of peace, our daily lives must be marked with this peace. There is nothing particularly special about this peace, but then again, there is something profoundly significant about it as well. Choosing the peace of Christ comes in the most normal moments of a day through the most common ways, but it points to the extraordinary power of the gospel, the story of God reconciling his people to himself and to each other. When you make peace with someone, you tell this story.

So in this season of peace, allow the peace of Christ to flow out from those few moments of the sharing the peace on a Sunday morning. Let the peace that guides us to the Table of the Lord be the same peace that guides us to our lunch tables, desks, and kitchen counters. Wherever we go is a place where the peace of Christ can be shared.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 79.


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