Why do we pass the Peace, and why do we do it the way we do?
In my work, I regularly worship in different churches across our diocese. As the passing of the Peace begins each Sunday, as the noise level increases and the congregation gathers in the center aisle, it is not uncommon for someone to approach me with an outstretched hand and a warm smile and say something like, “Better relax; this is gonna go on for a while!”
That kind of enthusiastic passing of the Peace is, for many, a favorite moment in our weekly Eucharist. But not everyone feels that way. A couple of years ago, an acquaintance of mine posted his opinion about passing the Peace on his Facebook page, and not surprisingly, quickly received many reactions and comments.
Those who enjoy longer, louder, and more enthusiastic passings say they experience them as moments of joyful community that build up congregational fellowship, and allow visitors and those who have been away for a while to be greeted. For them, the warmth and Christian love they express to each other is very important.
Some of those who think differently simply don’t like the noise level, the sense of disorder, or what some call, “the seventh inning stretch” in the middle of the Eucharist. Others though, like my acquaintance, don’t necessarily object to the style, but are instead concerned that such a passing of the Peace obscures the ancient liturgical purpose of the practice.
The original meaning and purpose are well documented. The breaking and sharing of consecrated elements by the people of God gathered around the table is an in-breaking of the reconciled kingdom of God. The Prayer Book calls it “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.”
“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.” (Morgan Clark, www.seedbed.com
In my own opinion, either extreme misses that purpose. Some passings of the Peace are so stiff and cursory as to obscure its purpose in their rigidity. Others are so much “the beginning of coffee hour” as to obscure it in their chattiness. No doubt most of us (as good Anglicans!) prefer, and have found, a middle way. We can declare our reconciliation with each other with integrity, even as we warmly greet and share God’s peace with each other in joy. Perhaps keeping both in mind is the best idea.
And that’s why we pass the Peace the way we do.