As anyone who has attended Friday Church will tell you, the Passing of the Peace is more than simply one item on the weekly Order of Worship. No offense to the preacher or the band, but I would contend that this beautiful ritual is, in fact, the centerpiece of the Friday Church service. It’s a time for people who come from vastly different backgrounds and experiences to speak and touch and connect. It’s a time for handshakes and hugs, laughter and tears. It’s a time for people who don’t experience a single caring word or touch at any other time during the week to receive and give love. It’s a time to wish peace and blessing to one another. It’s a lifeline between human and holy. I’ve never timed it, but I’d estimate that the Passing of the Peace “Friday Church Style” takes a solid 5 minutes or more. We Friday Churchers know how to move around that sanctuary! I can’t say that everyone greets everyone each week, but we definitely give it our best shot.
There is a small group of women who have been faithfully attending Friday Church for well over a year now. Soon after they began coming, I noticed something peculiar. During the Passing of the Peace, I thought I heard one of them, rather than saying, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” instead say to me, “…peace and Christ be with you.” I brushed it off as my simply not having heard her clearly above all the noise, and didn’t give it a second thought…Until the next week, when I heard the same thing – this time more clearly: “Peace and Christ be with you” (accompanied by a big hug). I remember thinking (somewhat condescendingly, I confess), “Oh, how sweet – she doesn’t know the right words.” I wondered if she had simply misheard or misunderstood the minister leading us in the ritual, or if she had actually been taught to share the peace using different words. I am embarrassed to admit that I also thought that if I spoke the correct words to her, maybe she would catch on and eventually “get it right.” (It didn’t work.)
This continued for several months, and each time we shared the Peace with one another, I had a similar reaction of, “oh, how sweet…” And then one Friday, after I had been the recipient of her usual bear hug and loud “peace and Christ, Miss Kim,” it suddenly hit me: Wake up, Kim. Listen to her, and pay attention. Think about what this woman is saying and what she is wishing for you. She is blessing you with a prayer – not only for the peace of Christ, but for Christ Himself to be with you. What better and more loving words could be offered up to God on your behalf?
WHOA. (This is my more modern translation of the biblical term “Selah,” meaning “to pause and listen.”)
Peace-Passing (Fridays and Sundays alike) has not been the same for me since that night. I now eagerly look forward to and seek out this dear woman’s blessing of Christ’s Peace and Presence on me, accompanied by her tight hug. I have no idea why, but she has recently also started shouting at me from a distance, as soon as we make eye contact, yelling “don’t think you’re going to get away without a hug from me.” And she descends upon me – arms wide open, ready blessing on her lips. The first time she did this, I was dumbfounded yet again – this time by the realization that my dear Friday Church friend not only wishes me Christ’s Peace and Presence every week, but she also embodies and is Christ to me every week with her loving words and touch…She not only is the pray-er on my behalf, she also is the very answer to her prayer for me, “Peace and Christ be with you, Miss Kim.” And so He is, through her.
After so many months of being totally clueless at best, judgmental at worst, I now understand that I’m the one who had the words all wrong…or at least had the meaning and intent not nearly as right as it could be. Sure, I know the “proper” way to pass the peace, but I now also know a different – equally beautiful and correct – way to do so. Far more than a simple ritual, Peace Passing has become a sacred time for me. It’s a precious opportunity and gift, one that I have been generously given, and now try to give back each week – not only to my dear teacher, but to all I can possibly touch.
Peace and Christ be with you.
Kim Waters / July 27, 2013