Growing up, one of the stressful parts of Sunday morning worship for me was the passing of the peace. That may surprise you, considering my extroverted tendencies. As a small child, I remember holding on to Mom’s hand while burying my face in her sleeve for several minutes to avoid eye contact as church members warmly greeted one another with “the peace of Christ be with you.”
I laughed as I looked up what the ELCA has to say about the exchange of peace. It starts with, “For some people, the moments in the liturgy following the prayers of the church are awkward ones. The presiding minister offers these words: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The congregation responds “And also with you.” The members of the congregation are then invited to “share the peace”.”
Haha. Am I right? It can be very awkward. And not every church passes the peace the same way. Do I hug? Do I extend a hand? When I lived in Hawaii, it was always a hug. Btw, hugs from the Hawaiian aunties were the best. Because of the pandemic, this ritual looks completely different. At my church we look around the room and hold up a peace sign. The nice thing now is that we can do that and smile into the live feed camera without the mask.
In our current climate, that ritual is just as important, if not more important. A lot of people are experiencing covid fatigue. The best of people are on the edge of making one wrong choice because their patience is running thin. I’m sure we’ve all noticed the uptick in grumpy drivers on the roads and in the aisles of the grocery store. Our mental health stats have plummeted; 2.5 million youth are diagnosed with severe depression. Oregon has the 10th highest suicide rate in the country. In Lane County, 11 people aged 24 and younger have committed suicide. That’s just over the past five months. We have the war in Ukraine, tornados from Texas to Mississippi, and the tragic fatal crash of the China Eastern flight that lead us to ask, “Where’s the peace in that?”
We don’t have far to go to find it. Simply stated, peace is found in us. Romans 5:1 tell us, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through our baptismal covenant, we bring peace wherever we go. Several verses come to mind about the peace that comes through our relationship with God.
“In peace, I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness, and trust forever.” Isaiah 32:17
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11
Each Sunday during worship, we have an opportunity to practice the words from 2 Corinthians as we “exchange the peace.” The ELCA explains it this way.
“The ‘exchange of peace’ (also commonly called ‘sharing the peace’ or ‘passing the peace’) is an act of reconciliation that serves as a transition point between the Word and Meal portions of the liturgy. As stated in The Sunday Assembly:
…This ministry we do to each other is far greater than a sociable handshake or a ritual of friendship or a moment of informality. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ, we give to each other what we are saying: Christ’s own peace…( p. 173).”
Recently my church’s book club finished Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. I understand there’s a group of people from Bethesda reading the same book. It’s a delightful read. This quote resonated with me.
“Each time we make a small choice toward justice, or buy fair trade, or seek to share instead of hoard, or extend mercy to those around us and kindness to those with whom we disagree, or say ‘I forgive you,’ we pass peace where we are in the ways that we can. And God can take these ordinary things and, like fish and bread, bless them and multiply them.”
When I pass the peace on Sunday mornings or choose to smile at the person wanting to play pole position at the grocery store, “I pass peace where I am in the ways that I can.” It brings life to a weary soul worn out by covid fatigue, by the news of wars, and natural disasters. It is an extension of my worship on Sunday morning. It’s carried as a reminder that no matter what comes my way, “I am baptized.”
Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary;
Intervarsity press @2016 by Luticia Harrison Warren
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255