It wasn’t until my son’s first wrestling match that I realized how intense and physically demanding the sport of wrestling is. It may be the purest expression of competition—two people with no gear engaged with one another for the sole
purpose of dominating the other. In wrestling there are clear lines. There are winners. And there are losers. There is pain. It’s rough and tough. But more jarring than the physical combat, for me, was what takes place after the match is over. When the time is expired the two wrestlers face each other and shake hands. At first it seems a strange juxtaposition. But it’s not. It’s an important gesture. It’s as if to say, “Good job.” And, “that was a sport, a competition, I don’t hate you, I’m not mad at you.” The handshake has always been a greeting and a gesture of good will. A physical, tangible means by which to extend a token of peace.
As Christians, our vocation is the vocation of peace.
This is no doubt why Christians for thousands of years have incorporated this expression of peace into their worship services. An extending of the hand; and extending of words: The peace of Christ be with you. We are not at war with each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are at peace…or at least should be.
Christian worship is not ethereal, esoteric, and abstract. Reflecting our bodily existence, our worship engages our bodies and our senses. We taste and see that the Lord is good. We hear the good news. We stand. We sit. We sing. We bow. We kneel. And here we extend our hands and extend the peace of Christ. Here we are trained to be peacemakers. As one writer notes,
It’s important at the same time to recognize the cumulative impact of weekly passing of the peace. By regularly practicing this gesture, our hearts are shaped in the form of the words. Consider the daily practice of training toddlers to say “please” and “thank you.” Though at the beginning the toddler mechanically repeats the words, eventually her heart fills the words with grace and gratitude; indeed, her heart is shaped in the form of “please” and “thank you.” In the same way, passing the peace gives us the vocabulary for expressing peace as we mature in faith and, in fact, shapes our hearts and minds in the form of peace.
Peace is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Having been justified by faith we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). When Jesus greeted his disciples after the resurrection he did so with a word of peace (Jn. 20:19). Following Jesus example, Paul begins both of his letters with an extension of peace (Rom. 1:7). And as Christians our vocation is the vocation of peace. We are peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).
What the passing of the peace isn’t. This isn’t a time to catch up on the week or to ask someone how they are doing. That’s important—so important we build it into our day by providing an extended time after the service over refreshments. This, however, is a focused time using focused words: “The peace of Christ be with you” or “the peace of the Lord be with you” or “peace be with you” or simply “peace” and the reciprocation: “also with you”.
Hopefully here you are reminded of the peace we have with God through Christ. Hopefully here we are reminded to pursue peace and keep peace. Hopefully peace will abound in our midst.