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Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (May 2015)

posted May 4, 2015, 3:32 PM by Russell D. Hampton

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

~ John 20:21-23

I have always been a tactile person – that is, I appreciate experiences through touch.  For instance when I was young, I would place my hand in my grandmother’s hand during the sermon each week.  She would spend the next 10-15 minutes lightly rubbing my hand.  My chaplain in college once told me that was how I experienced the Word of God as a child – through the gentle caress of my grandmother’s hand.  Or, I would be the one in the museum who would get into trouble because I would have to touch the paintings or relics; I would quickly be scolded, “Keep your hands to yourself.”  But there was something about the history in the item or the paint strokes in the artwork that I had to touch.  Or, as much as I enjoy my iPad, I do enjoy the touch and feel of an actual book.  I like to turn the pages and feel its weight in my hands.   

I guess that is why I have never minded passing the peace during the liturgy.  Now yes, I do lead the liturgy each week.  I should set the example and pass the peace with as many congregants as time allows – to model reconciliation with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I noticed, however, that when I am outside of my parish – whether as a participant or leader – I always leave my pew to greet others with the peace.   I guess that is one of the outcomes of being an extroverted, tactile person: I am on the frontlines of peace passing.

But that is not the case with everyone.  While attending a worship service during vacation one year, I observed that my father tends not to leave his pew to pass the peace.  He remains in place and passes the peace with those around him.  I asked him, “Dad, you are a church leader.  Why don’t you leave the pew to pass the peace when we attend another congregation?”  He replied, “I guess it is my introvert nature.  I just don’t feel it is necessary and I am more comfortable staying in one place.”  This exchange made me think of times when people outside of our parish have attended our liturgies.  One time a visitor said to me, “Why do you do that handshaking thing?  I don’t like it.”  Maybe some of you reading this article are not always comfortable passing the peace.  Yet, it is an important part of our liturgy each week.  So, why do we pass the peace?

Sharing the peace is not a simple “hello” or a time to “catch up.”  Sharing the peace is an act of reconciliation that serves as a transition between the Word and Meal portions of the liturgy.  It is an announcement of grace we make to each other and is often far greater than a sociable handshake or a ritual of friendship or a moment of informality.  The passing of the peace symbolizes our hope for the peace of the Church, peace in the world, and peace for all those in need.  Nevertheless, it is also the tangible way we offer the peace and reconciliation to one another that is possible only through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We then gather around the table to share the Holy Meal, sealing our gathering with a wish for the peace that passes all human understanding by sharing with each other the peace of Christ.

You don’t need to leave your pew. You don’t even need to shake hands (or hug or give a “holy kiss”).  I don’t think anyone will be offended if you are hesitant to shake hands during flu/cold season (but know we do have hand sanitizer!).  But I encourage you to continue to participate in the wonderful tradition of passing the peace with one another – whether it is saying it with words or showing it through actions or both. It is a time to be reconciled through action and to share the peace of Christ with one another.  You have received the forgiveness of God through Christ.  Christ commands you to forgive another. When we gather, we pass the peace to demonstrate to one another that we are indeed reconciled to and at peace with one another.    

In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen