Well hello and a big “howdy” from Nashville and our week of family vacation! I am gathered here with Annette, Fleet and Rachel and Emmy, Ann Preston, Mary Wynne and Eric and Camp to get some long overdue whole family time. First, I’ll share a couple of fun tidbits from Music City and then a brief but important piece of info you will need. So, stay with me!
First, as cool as Nashville (Nashvegas) is, it ain’t home. There are no mountains, no CHS, and most importantly, none of you all live here.
Second, the traffic is unbelievable. Yesterday at 4:12 pm we found ourselves at a standstill even though there was no wreck or big event. No thanks! Roanoke suits me just fine.
Third, everyone down here is a singer, songwriter or musician, and I have not found one yet that can carry Julie’s sandals. 🙂
Now I want to tell you about a part of our worship service that soon will change positions and WHY that change is being made.
Anglicans, and in fact most Christians around the world, “Pass The Peace” BEFORE communion. We used to do that at CHS. Back around 1990, our congregation started growing rapidly; we were an especially exuberant group of free spirited Cursillo (Emmaus) folk, Young Lifers, and even a good number of charismatics. When we came to the point in the service right before Communion, I would say: “The Peace of the Lord be with you,” and the congregation (then about 130 strong) would reply, “And also with you.” The next 4+ minutes would be a blur. People hugging every single person in the church. It was fun. It was inviting. Heck, it sure did look like everyone loved each other. If not, the Passing of the Peace insured, ok “forced” folks to deal with any break in a relationship before going up for communion. That practice worked fine until we grew another 100 people. The Passing of the Peace took forever. I could not corral folks back to the Lord’s Table. I resorted to blowing a shofar. No kidding! That quickly surfaced two camps: people who thought sounding a shofar was cool as heck and a throwback to Hebraic customs, and those who fled the sanctuary thinking we were a cult.
After about a year of further growth, it literally became impossible to experience an orderly Passing of the Peace. It was as though we were having home group in the middle of worship.
SO, I decided at that point that in order to keep some modicum of order we would move the Passing of the Peace and place it at the end of the service.
Very sensible idea.
BUT it is wrong liturgically. Some might even argue wrong biblically. There is a reason Christians have adopted this practice for centuries in worship. It is not a “tag-on” at the end of a service just to have an opportunity to greet friends or highlight that we are a friendly church.
Why “Pass the Peace?”
In the confession of sin and absolution, we have been reconciled with God; during the “Peace,” we have the chance to be reconciled with others in the body of Christ (Mt 5:23ff).
We also want to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
By inserting the “Passing of the Peace” prior to Communion, the family meal, the Body of Christ enjoys the opportunity for family members to be at peace and in unity as Jesus prayed in John 17. Or they can choose to refrain from taking the Lord’s Supper until they address any issues at hand and reconcile with a brother or sister in Christ with whom they are at odds.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Mt 5
When I was a kid, I grew up in a snake belly low Episcopal church. We did not physically “pass the peace;” we simply said the verbal response. We were not the “touchy feely” type. When I went to seminary, I HATED the “Passing of the Peace” because I had to pass the peace physically with people I found odd and/or did not like very much. It made me want to skip Communion services. Honestly, I literally wanted to slip out the back. But I guess those very emotions and thoughts validated the need for me to pass the peace with those brothers and sisters. So physically passing the Peace became an act of worship for me to the Lord! Real Christian community is real and Christian. At our best, we deal with our stuff. We love each other, not pretend that we love each other.
When the seminary professors cited the scripture above as one of several biblical reasons why Christians “pass the peace” before Communion, I quipped sarcastically that we should do “it” before the COLLECTION of money. No pastor would ever do that! HA! But what bigger gift do we bring to the Lord’s altar then ourselves, our lives, our wills, and our hearts?
So starting this Fall, we will begin to “Pass the Peace” as we once did as a church, in its proper place. Just like the Rwandans and Nigerians do! The Peace will no longer be an afterthought or a goodbye greeting shouted from the back of the sanctuary. Betcha Jesus will smile on that.