Sunday, April 18, 2010


“The Greeting of Peace,” sometimes called “the Passing the Peace,” or “the Kiss of Peace,” or simply, “the Peace,” is playing to mixed reviews in some Protestant churches. At least, so I hear. That’s probably because the rite contains a mixture of meanings.

For many Reformed and similarly inclined folks, this is a new idea, so that they don’t know quite what to do with it. In the midst of worship we should break ranks and wander the aisles to press the flesh of our co-worshippers? Before and after the service, such warmth of fellowship is completely understood. It is unusual for us, however, that in the middle of worshipping God we should stop to greet one another in any fashion whatsoever.

Too often, the Greeting of Peace is merely a greeting, a time during which we say hi to our friends and exchange quick messages like, “New dress? Love it!” or “Come over for the game!” or “Dinner tomorrow?” or “Can’t make the meeting tonight—sorry!” and so forth.

There is the problem: we really do not stop worshipping God to act out the Greeting of Peace. At least we should not stop. The Greeting itself is an act of worshipping God. It is the celebration of God’s peace given to each one of us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I pass along the blessing of peace bestowed on me by the crucified and risen Lord in this action.

So we should never treat the greeting casually, without eye contact, with limp handshakes. If we know the person’s name, we should address her or him by it. If appropriate, a hug or a kiss seals the greeting’s exchange. If we offer the greeting first, we should have the grace to wait for the other’s response. Otherwise the Greeting of Peace will seem a trivial and superficial dialogue interrupting and pre-empting praise to the Almighty.

The Greeting is often placed after the Prayer of Confession and Pardon. In exchanging the Greeting of Peace, the Peace we have received in Jesus Christ, we take the next logical step. As we are forgiven, so we forgive. The Greeting of Peace is a sign of reconciliation, God’s reconciliation to us in Jesus Christ, ours to one another in the church and to everyone beyond. It brings any who are separate together. It offers Peace to heal the brokenness, in our souls, in our relationships.

Some scholars have suggested that the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about achieving reconciliation before bringing your gift to the altar (Matthew 5:23-24) reflects a liturgical act already being formalized. Therefore, if the Greeting is not exchanged immediately after the Prayer of Confession, it should take place before the Lord’s Supper.

So the Greeting of Peace is not just for friends, although often we need Peace between ourselves and our friends to heal faded or broken relationships. It is also for us to extend to strangers, and is therefore an acting out of the virtue of Christian hospitality. It is Christ welcoming the stranger, the sinner, by means of our Greeting of Peace offered to them. We become Christ’s agents in these moments, doing his will, blessing others with his Peace. It is an act sure to overwhelm with humility and wonder anyone offering Christ’s peace in this way.

Yet it is precisely this exchange of Peace of Christ among people that overrides all other relationships that they might have with each other. Relationships between or among family, friends, sinners, strangers, or any others are not what bring us together in the church. In fact they really don’t matter, in spite of the fact that we often make them matter. It is the Peace of God that brings us together as the church and binds us as people of God, as followers of Jesus. That’s all that really matters—it is the glue that makes us stick together.

The Greeting of Peace, then, reforms, reassembles and unifies the gathering of diverse worshippers as God’s own people. The Peace we exchange is not ours to give, except as we have received it from Christ.

You’d think we’d know all this, since we are Bible-believing people. A Greeting (or Kiss) of Peace was apparently referenced in the letters of Paul (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:26) and Peter (1 Peter 5:14), testifying to some such practice among the followers of Jesus early in the life of the young church.

The Greeting of Peace is not to be demeaned by letting it be a superficial salute to an old pal, or a shallow welcome to a stranger. Rather it speaks from the heart of the Gospel. As Christ reconciles each of us to God, so we are, like it or not, to be reconciled to one another.

“The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
“And also with you.”

The question is, what can we do to shift our corporate awareness from the shallow understanding to the deep and profound meaning of the Greeting of Peace? Do you have the Greeting of Peace in your church’s service? How is it interpreted? Does the pastor ever preach about it?

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