I sat down to write my July article about a topic I had chosen a few months ago:
Finding your own peace.
The original intent was to write about finding an activity that brings you a sense of peace and calm and centeredness in the midst of the chaos of summer schedules, and while I’ll certainly write that article someday, the topic struck a different chord in light of the recent tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Instead of focusing on finding what brings us our own sense of inner peace, I want to talk about sharing and perpetuating Christ’s peace in this world – a world, as I often say, that is so desperately in need.
When I ask people about what they love about the OZ churches and, more specifically, what they love about OZ worship, many times, people tell me they love the way we pass the peace of Christ. People love that we move around. They love that we interact with each other – shaking hands, giving hugs, even giving fist bumps or some other sort of acknowledgment when we’re trying not to share germs.
And people love that we take the time. It’s not rushed. It’s not forced. We share greetings of “good morning” and “peace” with each other because we’re genuinely happy to see one another! I love explaining to visitors that this part of our service is going to take a while, and I love seeing the looks on visitors’ faces as person after person greets and welcomes them.
Connected with this treasured ritual, of course, is the song that we sing: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me …
I grew up in a congregation that does something similar. They actively pass the peace on Sunday morning, everyone greeting one another with fondness and love before returning to their pews in the midst of a familiar song. In fact, because of the inspiration of the OZ congregations, my home congregation now uses the same song to conclude their time of passing the peace as well.
And as much as we love and cherish this ritual, it always astounds me to encounter people – pastors and parishioners alike – from other congregations who refuse to participate in this beautiful and theologically rich tradition. I find it baffling and a little bit sad that there are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who are missing out on this meaningful opportunity.
After his resurrection but before he ascended back to heaven, Jesus passed the peace with the disciples:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
~ John 14:27
Jesus knew that there would be troubled times ahead for the disciples – times of pain, fear, frustration, anger, confusion, and all those other things that we continue to struggle with in our own society and in our own hearts. And in the face of all that darkness and scariness, Jesus said, “Peace.” We remind each other of this every Sunday morning when we share this special and sacred time with one another.
And the placement of the passing of the peace in the order of the worship service is no accident, friends. We take time to pray and to confess our struggles and our sins together, both silently and aloud. We are reminded of the grace and forgiveness afforded to us by God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And then, in the awareness of that grace and in recognition of God’s precious forgiveness found in each of us, we share the peace of Christ with each other.
But it doesn’t stop there. We are also charged to take that peace out into the world – to share it with the people that we know and love, the people that we meet, and even the people that we find challenging. In the face of the terrible shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the need for that peace in the face of hatred, injustice, fear, and prejudice is all the more critical. So, my friends, may the peace of Christ be with you …