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Holy Everything: Peace greeting is a time for connection

October 8, 2018

Interested in experiencing an extra dose of peace in your week? There was ancient ritual created for this purpose that remains a weekly part of many worship services!

It’s called the “exchange of peace” and also goes by several other names including the sharing of the peace, the passing of the peace and the kiss of peace.

Right before it happens in a church service, the worship leader usually says something like, “The peace of the Lord be with you,” and then the congregation responds in unison, “And also with you.” After that, folks move about the worship space shaking hands with other people in attendance and saying something like, “The peace of Christ be with you” or “Peace” or “Peace be yours.”

For those unfamiliar with the practice, it can sometimes be a surprising and uncomfortable experience. Even those who have participated in the ritual thousands of times often find it a bit awkward and confusing. We wonder how long it should last, how many people we should greet, what we’re supposed to be saying and why we’re even doing it in the first place.

As a way to build our collective appreciation for the exchange of peace, what follows is a brief history of the ritual and its intended purposes.

Most parts of a worship service are rooted in stories from the Bible. This is certainly the case with the exchange of peace which has been part of worship since the very beginning of the Christian church. The sharing of a harmonious greeting is referenced in a multitude of places in Scripture.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he showed up in a locked room where the disciples were gathered. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” When we share a greeting of peace during a worship service, we take our inspiration from Jesus. It’s a chance to proclaim the presence and peace of Jesus to one another. It’s a time to nurture our spiritual connectedness as a community and remind each other of the miraculous peace that is possible through Christ.

Another biblical story that inspired the exchange of peace comes from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 23-24. Jesus described to his followers that if anyone wanted to make an offering to God but was experiencing interpersonal conflict, the individual first needed to seek peace and reconciliation with the other party. When we share the peace during worship these days, we’re reminding ourselves and others that as Jesus followers, we are conflict resolvers and peace-seeking people.

During certain times of the year (especially cold and flu season), there are many congregations who understandably omit the sharing of the peace. Or, as an alternative, communities opt to share peace without touching.

When it comes to exchanging this sacred greeting with other people, there are many ways to do so that don’t require physical contact. We can smile, nod, or bow. These options are available to you anytime if you prefer to avoid touching other people. The main goal is to compassionately acknowledge the individuals in your midst while saying, “The peace of Christ be with you.”

When we share this holy greeting, we remind one another that the Spirit of God is perpetually at work in our lives and communities weaving an intricate tapestry of peace.

Now let’s take a moment to discuss what the exchange of peace is not; it’s not:

• A time to catch up with your neighbor: The sharing of the peace isn’t the appropriate time for small talk (that’s better suited for before or after worship).

• A chance to sneak out and use the bathroom: It’s helpful to consider the sharing of the peace a valuable and necessary component of a worship service and not something to be avoided.

• An opportunity to greet everyone in attendance: There’s no pressure or historical precedent for exchanging the peace with every other person in the sanctuary! It’s OK to limit your exchanges to several people and then thoughtfully return to your seat.

The peace that Jesus brings into our lives has the power to shape the way we experience the world. Sharing that peace with others during worship is a way to (1) prioritize reconciliation with one another and (2) reconnect with Jesus, a sacred and everlasting source of shalom.

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