Passing the Peace
Is the practice of “Passing the Peace” biblical? Is it necessary? Isn’t it just something Roman Catholics and “high-Church” types do? And doesn’t it just make people feel awkward? Doesn’t it distract from the rest of the service?
The principle behind the practice is that being united to God means that we are united to one another. The point of the Passing of the Peace is not supposed to be an awkward point where everyone tries to think of something they might have done to offend someone else. That’s not the point at all. The ‘Peace’ is not a time of confession. Rather, it’s a time of showing our unity and communion with one another. Shaking hands and greeting one another in the Lord is a visible, tangible opportunity to show forth the unity that we have in Christ (Ps. 133, Eph. 4:1-16). The way we speak, sing, listen, pray, eat, drink etc. in worship is the pattern for how we are to live in the world. Obviously we are not required to do EVERYTHING in worship that we do in the world, but we do have specific exhortations to greet one another. Romans 16 in particular is an entire chapter where Paul gives a host of greetings to be given to particular saints in the Church of God. See verse 16 in particular where he commands us to greet another with a holy kiss! I don’t think that’s just cultural thing, and we know that this is not just a first century version of shaking hands because of the fact that it is designated as ‘holy’. This implies a kind of liturgical connection. It is a particular greeting that saints greet one another with, differently than the rest of the world because we are family in Christ. The end of 1 Corinthians 16 is another passage of greetings from Paul and another command to greet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14, and 2 Corinthians 13:12 also exhort us to greet one another with a holy kiss. Philippians 4:21 exhorts us to greet all the saints in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to greet all those who rule over us and all the saints (13:24, See also 3 John 1:14). We ought to see the importance of the concept simply on the grounds of how often it is repeated. I should clarify that I am not here arguing that the “Passing of the Peace” must include the ‘holy kiss’. I’m rather arguing that the “holy kiss” is at minimum a principle that ought to be applied: a liturgical greeting among the saints.
Obviously ‘greetings’ are something that people often send in the mail, and we are reading first century mail (!). But greeting one another in peace and love is exhorted over and over in the New Testament because we have been brought together for fellowship and communion. The command we have to greet one another ‘in the Lord’ or with a ‘holy kiss’ implies that this is not just a “hey, how’s it going?” sort of greeting. That kind of greeting can be done before or after the service. The Passing of the Peace is a time for real, personal greeting ‘in the Lord’, extending peace and blessings to one another because that is what we have received from God through Jesus Christ.
As far as awkwardness goes, we’ve been doing it here at Trinity for the last 6 months or so, and I have not heard one single comment to that effect. Everyone I know has said that it is one of their favorite parts of the new liturgy. And again this is not a casual, “hey, how was your week?” kind of greeting. This is specifically a time to greet one another ‘in the Lord’. At Trinity we greet one another saying things like: “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit”, “The Peace of the Lord be with you/And with you”, and others just say, “God bless you!” And thus, it should not be a distraction or a sidetrack to the rest of the worship service. This, leading right into Communion is very fitting because Communion is not just a ‘me and God moment’. We are seated together at the table of the Lord, and this is a very tangible way to ‘discern the body of the Lord’ and prove the fact that there are not divisions among us as Paul warns against (1 Cor. 11:18-34).