Passing the Peace

By Jason Elwell

Everyone remembers his or her first kiss. For some it was smooth and flawless, but for most of us it was extremely awkward. My first encounter was in the sixth grade with Monica Ramos. I just remember how nervous I was, not knowing what to do with this newfound desire to be close to someone else’s face. I had seen it done on TV and I was grossed out many times by walking into the kitchen and catching my parents engaged in a sloppy wet one, but I never thought I would have to do it. Insecure and uncomfortable doesn’t even come close to explaining how I felt at that moment. I was like a fish out of water. Do I open my mouth, or do I purse my lips? Do I come 50% and let her come 50%? Or is it 60/40, and where is Hitch when you need him?

As it turns out, as far as I can remember, my first kiss went fine. “The Kiss” is an interesting phenomenon. It has the obvious romantic component to it but it can have a platonic or spiritual significance as well. For instance, if you grew up in the ancient Mediterranean part of the world, you’d be quite comfortable greeting someone by kissing them on one or both cheeks. And to reject such a gesture could be quite offensive because this is how people showed kindness and respect to those in their midst.

It is a profound moment when we proclaim the peace that has been made available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection on the Cross.

The Kiss had such a strong cultural influence in the Middle East that it eventually became a part of Christian worship. Five times in the New Testament, the church is encouraged to “Greet one another with a Holy Kiss.” This greeting stuck with the church into the third century where it became known as “The Passing of the Peace.” This part of the liturgy usually happened right before the Lord’s Table when the congregation turns to one another and says, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” which elicits the response: “and also with you.” This element evolved over the ages, like many pieces of liturgy. Where it was once commonplace to Pass the Peace with a kiss, as a simple handshake became the norm as Christianity moved West.

In ancient liturgy, the peace was more than just the traditional greeting to which we’ve grown accustomed in the evangelical church. It was not merely a break in the service for small talk, but rather a point where each member of the congregation had a similar and equal task to that of the minister. It is a profound moment when we proclaim the peace that has been made available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection on the Cross. This gesture of mutual acceptance is rooted in humility, knowing that we all approach God on an equal plain.

It’s not a coincidence, then, that in some liturgies the Peace falls right before communion. To Pass the Peace serves as a reminder that there is inventory that needs to be done in our lives before we go to the Table. Jesus gives us an example in Matthew chapter 5: “So when you are offering your gift at the alter…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come offer your gift.” And Timothy echoes this charge when he encourages us to, “confess our sins to one another.” When we turn to our neighbor and offer peace, we are saying aloud that we have been reconciled to God through the death of his son and we are therefore also reconciled with one another.

At IBC, we’ve reconnected with this beautiful piece of liturgy in our worship on Sundays. We recognize that we live in a culture that is driven by media, advertising and technology. As a result, we find ourselves fighting a self-centered, consumerist approach to worship. Passing the Peace helps us remember that we are not alone, but rather a community of people on a journey together. Yes, sometimes it can feel as awkward as that first kiss, but it’s important for us whenever we gather, to look at each other and acknowledge that we are in the game with other human beings.

South Africans have a word for this called “Abuntu,” which is a person that has a proper self-assurance knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole. So let’s get comfortable with the awkwardness and proclaim the Peace of Christ that has been freely given to us all by our Creator and Lord. May we not be consumers of spirituality but rather participants in God’s story. May the Peace of Christ be with you.

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