In this month’s Living Lutheran is an article entitled “A Powerful Ritual: What Sharing the Peace Can Teach Us about Faith” by Benjamin Stewart. I’m sharing a few article excerpts with my own commentary, but this opens up the opportunity for an important dialogue: what do we really think?
Article: In many congregations, it looks like a simple, everyday greeting. People turn to one another and share a handshake, or or hug while offering a few words about peace. To some, such gestures feel inappropriately casual, as if we’re taking a break from worship. To others, navigating what we hope is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may seem risky and require adaptation.
PT: As our COVID safety protocols have changed over the months, so has our experience of sharing the peace. It’s not been an easy moment in our liturgy for me to have to caution folks to “hold back” and “be respectful of each other’s comfort levels.” After all, we are a “huggy” group and appreciate the warm embrace of a brother, sister, sibling in our faith community. What’s your current comfort level when it comes to this moment in worship?
Article: In the early church, the typical way to share the peace was through a kiss on the mouth. Unsurprisingly, the early church spent a lot of energy trying to keep this ritual from being misinterpreted or becoming abusive. Over time practices grew more diverse. Especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re more aware of how we can harm one another through touch.
Today we can share the peace in ways that honor others’ physical boundaries and respect the integrity and health of our bodies. We can honor the space between our bodies with a simply bow, exchange simple signs of consent before we touch, and find ways to empower everyone – especially the most vulnerable – to set boundaries on how and whether they will be touched.
PT: I love that worship involves not just our minds, hearts, and spirits, but also, our bodies as well. Standing and sitting, the smell of Easter lilies, the taste of wine/grape juice, the use of our voices to speak and sing; many sights and sounds – all ways our bodies are invited into the experience of worship. With our understanding of the incarnation (God becoming human), I find it fascinating that the most profound way to connect with God (and with one another) is through our bodies. Could it be that our hands are an extension of our hearts? The touching of one another a gesture of our inner spirits? How do we do this while still being respectful of space between us?
Article: For several early Christians, sharing the peace was one of the most profound – even radical – worship practices. What is hidden in this simple-looking ritual? How can we understand what we’re doing when we share the peace today? What difference does it make for our daily lives?
PT: Consider this – why is it that the sharing of the peace takes place before we come to the family table? Is this a moment to clear the air or to be reminded of the connection (communion) we are about to share with each other? In the past, communion was a “me and Jesus” sort of thing. Now, our sacramental theology has expanded to communion being a “you and me and Jesus” experience, a validation of when Jesus said, “When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there” (Matthew 18:20).
Article: Originally, sharing peace in worship was considered scandalous because in wider culture it was exchanged only between close family members in the privacy of a home. Early Christians understood the peace as a radical expansion of family ethics. John Chrysostom wrote that sharing the peace is the church’s “fuel of love” and happens “so that we may love each other as siblings. . .” Imagine a world today in which we sought the well-being of everyone as if they were beloved members of our family.
PT: We started River of Hope based on a “relational model.” In other words, we are less interested in “quantity of people” and more interested in “quality of relationship” with one another. As we share our stories, as diverse as they may be, we discover commonalities that connect us. Maybe that’s why sharing the peace on Sunday mornings is often a beautiful and long-lasting ritual. It is a recognition and a celebration of the family we have become and are becoming, because for everyone of those empty seats among us, God has in mind a person who will someday be part of the sharing of the peace ritual as well. Let’s continue to learn and grow in this expression of our openness and affection; and let us do so with utmost sensitivity to one another’s space and needs.
Given all that has been said above, feel free to comment below and share your own thoughts on the subject. What is your personal comfort level when it comes to this moment in worship?