The Passing of the Peace

Matthew 9:35-10:14

Peace be with you.

In the Christian faith, we have a tradition called “the passing of the peace”.  During the passing of the peace, we say to one another: “May the peace of Christ be with you” or maybe just “peace be with you” and the other person responds “and also with you.”

The passing of the peace is not a Catholic tradition; I passed the peace at my Baptist church growing up.  I loved passing the peace … I passed it to my friends … I passed it to strangers … I passed it to the older people in my congregation.  I know God’s love looks like many things but, for me as a child, God’s love looked like Bernice Jerkelwitz, an older member of the congregation, hugging me and tell me she loved me during the passing of the peace.

However, the passing the peace is not a Baptist tradition; it’s much older than that.  The Jesus movement has been passing the peace for thousands of years.  It started when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples who were fearfully holed up in a room. Into this place of fear and anxiety, the Risen Christ said, “Peace be with you.”

The Jesus movement has been sharing these words and passing the peace ever since.

Since I will be talking about the passing of the peace today, I figure we should pass the peace with one another.  I know that not everyone is a fan of passing the peace and that this practice can be hard for introverts, so please note a couple things:

    • You are invited to pass the peace in a way that is comfortable to you. If you want to peace only a couple of people, that’s okay. If you want to get out of your pew and peace many people that’s okay too.
    • The passing of the peace is a way to remind us of what is already true: that Christ’s peace is with us. We gather in community because we need reminders.  Maybe today, you don’t really feel like you need to receive Christ’s peace but perhaps the person that you are peacing does.  Passing the peace is like giving a gift to yourself and others.

I invite you to share the peace of Christ with one another.

One: The peace of Christ be with you.
Many: And also with you.

Please rise as you are able and share a sign of Christ’s peace with one another, with a hug, a handshake, a high five, however you feel comfortable. Come, let us share God’s peace.

[Actual sharing of the peace]

The passing of the peace is important because we cannot pass the peace alone.  The act reminds us that we require community.

I was reminded of the need for community when I was at the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis a few weeks ago.  The Taize monastery is a monastery started in Taize, France as a site for reconciliation after World War II.  The monastery coordinates pilgrimages of trust every few years in each of the continents as part of their reconciliation work.

At the St. Louis pilgrimage, I have the honor of eating dinner with one of the brothers from the Taize monastery.  The brother is telling me about the worship service for the evening; he tells me that they were going to have a Good Friday-like service that included the veneration of the cross.  I ask him if we are going to have an Easter-like service that celebrates the resurrection.  I know that at the brother’s home monastery, every week, they have a service to celebrate the resurrection.  During this service, everyone gets a candle and the light of the resurrection is passed from one person to the other until the entire space is filled with light.

The brother says to me, there will be no service of the resurrection because we are not allowed to light candles in the worship space.  Well, I have a cell phone, I reply, I could just use my flashlight app and hold it up and … isn’t that the same as having a lit candle?

The brother looks at me very seriously.  For a second, I am afraid I offended him.  He says to me: No, that would not work.  The light must be passed from one person to another, because it is through one other that we experience the light of Christ.

The passing, he tells me, is a communal act.  It’s relational.

Like passing of candle light, we need each other to pass the peace; we can’t just hit an app on our phone and experience peace; we need others to remind us of what is already true.

I wonder how we can pass this peace not just with each other but with the world.

In his book Peace etc., minister and psychotherapist Bob Beverley writes, “Peace is made from all the little moments when people touch us with kindness, warmth, acceptance and appreciation.”  It is easy not to dwell on these moments, because we are always looking for more things, bigger things, better things.  Yet, Beverley reminds us that “peace is an under-rated package that we can give ourselves when we remember to breathe, be grateful, see the glory in most moments, and believe (however precariously) that we are … somebody.”

Do you know you are somebody?

You are somebody whose love and kindness matter.
You make more of a difference than you know.

This is one of the wise messages that Jesus shares with us in the Scripture today.

You are somebody whose love and kindness matter.
You make more of a difference than you know.

In the Scripture, Jesus says, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

In the past, I have focused on the fact that Jesus tells us that if our gift of peace is not received, that we should take it back and move onto the next house.  The fact that someone cannot receive our gift of peace or love is not a reflection of our internal worth and value; instead it means that that the person has their own journey to take and that we should keep going and share our peace with homes that are wise enough to receive it.  If your peace is not received, Jesus says, take it back.

Yet, Jesus also says, “If the house is worthy, let you peace come upon it.”

In other words, there will be places where you peace will rest.

When I had previously heard Jesus’ words, I had been so focused on thinking about the places where my peace had not landed that I forgot to think about the places where it had.

Do you ever do that?  Do ever become so focused on the places where you cannot help that lose track of the ones where you can?

Where do you have influence?  Where can you share your peace?  These are questions worth reflecting on because you are somebody and your love and kindness matter.  Not only that, but you make more of a difference than you know.

Move onto the places where your peace will rest, where it will be valued.  Sometimes, we don’t know where house that will be.  All we can do is go about our lives, saying to each person, “Peace be with you” like we are planting seeds in field.  We don’t know what seeds will grow, but we know some will and the only way that they will grow is if they are planted.

Peace be with you.

Sometimes passing the peace takes the form of words and handshakes.  Sometimes it comes in prayers, cards and pre-made meals.  Sometimes the passing of the peace looks like helping a neighbor.  Sometimes it comes in glorious music that sets your foot tapping and your body moving.  At our Concert for a Better Tomorrow this week, there were hours that music filled the air … not bad news, cruelty or harm, but glorious music.  In that moment, we brought peace; we passed the peace to our community.

In those moments, Jesus tells us, don’t be so quick to move on to the next thing, stay there for a while, in the place where your peace has rested so that you can see: You are somebody whose love and kindness matter.  You make more of a difference than you know.

Keep passing the peace.  Keep passing the peace.

For you are the peace of Christ for somebody.

Write that note.  Say that hello.  Play that guitar. Set your body a-dancing.  Offer that thank you.

For the world needs your peace.  It can’t experience peace all by itself.  It can’t download an app.  It needs you; you are part of this great process of sharing the peace.  Jesus passes it to us and then calls us to pass to others until the world is filled with the deepest kind of peace.

You are somebody whose love and kindness matter.
You make more of a difference than you know.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

This sermon is inspired by and dedicated to the Reverend Bob Beverley.

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