Every Sunday during our worship services at Faith, we have this little ritual that takes place. This particular ritual happens after the Prayers of Intercession, and before the offering is collected. It is a momentary time of chaotic interaction during an otherwise orderly assembly. People get up, move around, shake hands, greet one another, and say these words: “Peace be with you.”
But what is the point of doing this? Why is it important to do this action in the context of a worship service? Does it carry any more significance than the high-five that they do at the conclusion of Little League and football games?
Passing the peace of Christ is actually an ancient component of Christian worship and liturgy. Our modern day version of peace passing is descended from an earlier act of worship known as “the kiss of peace.” 1 Peter 5:14 says, “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Through his letters Paul repeatedly reminds the churches to greet one another with “a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26). It was the custom in the ancient western Mediterranean for men to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek.
Passing the peace is a tradition rooted in Scripture that embodies our identity as peacemakers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The practice of verbally and physically sharing Christ’s peace trains ours hearts, hands, and tongues in the ways of peace. It is also a comforting reminder of the greeting Jesus himself used with his disciples, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).
Similarly, when we regularly pass the peace we practice God’s call to maintain the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Grudges and bitterness should fall away when we greet one another in the reality of the peace Jesus brings to us. By regularly performing this gesture our hearts and minds can become shaped in the form of peace.
Finally, when we shake a hand and say, “Peace,” we are actually imparting Christ’s peace to one another. It is as if Jesus himself is physically embracing and speaking to you and through you. Just as the bread and wine are transformed into something more than physical nourishment, our gestures and words are transformed into something more. “Peace” becomes more than a word shared between two parishioners. The words of peace spoken become the words of Christ delivered to us in the human flesh.