If you’ve ever attended an Episcopal worship service, you will have witnessed what we call “Passing the Peace,” a part of the service when we move from hearing and reflecting on God’s word to gathering at God’s table to give thanks and receive the gift of Holy Communion. In some churches, folks stand in their place and smile, nod, and shake hands with those in close proximity while saying “the peace of the Lord be always with you.” In a lot of churches, it becomes a lengthy love fest where everyone moves around hugging and greeting each other in the name of God and return to their seats only after greeting every single person. And, I’m sure there are many churches that fall along the spectrum between these two situations (that should include everyone!).
As a priest, I especially like the latter version – to watch the people I am charged with shepherding and loving joyfully greet each other in the name of God fills my heart to bursting each time I witness it.
The theology of Passing the Peace is this: that whatever may have transpired since the last time I saw you, regardless of the ideas and concepts over which we may disagree, in spite of our joint broken humanness, I offer to you peace and accept yours so that we can come together around God’s table in unity to offer ourselves over to God’s holy presence in humility and repentance (and if the word ‘repentance’ makes you squirm, please see my post from December 6).
Peace, as it is understood scripturally, isn’t a complete absence of conflict. Jesus’ life was constant conflict – the government and the religious leaders wanted to silence his ministry; his own family called him crazy; he was so upset that people were profiteering from the sale of religious rites that he flipped tables and cracked the whip (literally); even his own disciples regularly questioned his choices and methods.
And yet Jesus says to us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
Peace, as we offer it in the name of God, is an understanding that we are bound together through the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God which is greater than any disagreement or conflict we may have with each other.
Peace is a state of being in which we are not completely undone by the changes and chances of this life.
Peace is the confidence that God is always with us and it comes from the hope we have that God brings newness and goodness to all things.
Peace is believing that there is no situation we can mess up so badly that God can’t redeem and bring good from (don’t be judging me for ending that sentence with a preposition – that is a grammar rule up with which I will not put), and that even when we “lose the peace” God is with us to remind us and draw us back into spiritual peace.
Peace is trusting that in spite of how we may perceive ourselves or how we think others see us, God sees us, each of us, only and always as God’s Beloved Child, wonderfully created in God’s own image, unique with gifts necessary for the completeness of God’s Kingdom.
Peace is knowing we are loved, not in spite of or regardless of anything, but because God is love.
As we continue our Advent Journey, consider where in your life you need to receive Jesus’ Peace. Consider how God’s Peace equips you to love through the conflicts and challenges you face.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of God’s son Jesus Christ our Lord.
(And, as I always sign off, even if it may seem repetitive in this post, it can never be said enough)