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Apr 2011

Sunday Rhythm | God Calls His People to Worship | Passing of the Peace

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. – Romans 16:16

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. – Verse 4 of In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

As we conclude the first part of our Sunday rhythm, God Calls His People to Worship, we have moved from God calling his people to worship, to beginning our gathering together with scriptures, songs, and prayers that bestow adoration on, and recognize the greatness, goodness, and grace of God. In the light of who God is, we recognize that we are sinful people in desperate need of his grace. His pardon then becomes necessary as we affirm God’s provision of grace through the person and work of Jesus on our behalf. We sing songs about Jesus and his work on the cross, and we read scriptures together that also remind us of the mercy provided by God, who has reached down to us through the gospel of Christ. After this reminder that we have received pardon from our sin because Jesus sacrificed himself and paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, we then go on to pass the peace that we now have with God through his son.

The passing of the peace is simply the time in our service where we greet and welcome each other, demonstrating and declaring our unity as a church body built on the foundation of Jesus’ sacrifice. Christ’s work of reconciliation on our behalf offers us forgiveness for our sins and the possibility of genuine fellowship in community. Before His arrest, beating, and death, Jesus said to his disciples:

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

Jesus died to make peace between God and man, between his people, Jew or Gentile, slave or free man or woman, and to give us peace in the midst of any trials and tribulations we may face. This peace is ours through faith in Jesus, his death, and resurrection. Bruce Benedict, Worship and Community Life Director at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, writes on the historicity of the “Passing of the Peace”:

    In the New Testament as the Gospel spread about the Greco‐Roman world it brought with it a mass re‐orientation of Hellenistic society. Slaves and masters, barbarians and free, Men and Women, were now co‐heirs in Christ and shared food at the same Lord’s Table. What a radical departure from the status quo! This new upside‐down Kingdom brought with it many new customs and practices that supported and reinforced the new Gospel reality. One of the most striking practices we know of ‐ called in traditional liturgical practice, the “Passing of the Peace.”

    The custom of the Roman world was that whenever someone of lower class greeted royalty they would either kiss their hand, or their feet, or even kiss the hem of their robe. The early church understood that in Christ all became sons and daughter of a King. Which made every saint a prince and princess. This translated to the early church practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss. This was a tremendously subversive act by which the early church proclaimed its presence.

Now the passing of the peace has come to be a greeting time in most churches, but really it has a much more profound and spiritual meaning than the awkward and uncomfortable, “Good morning” we toss to each other on any given Sunday. We are called to be the people of God. This is a sacred calling by the one true God resulting in one body, the family of God, the church. As Ephesians 4:1-6 reminds us, we live out our calling by the power of the Holy Spirit as we walk in relationship with one another.

Each week when we “Pass the Peace” and great each other, it should serve as a reminder to God’s people that in the forgiveness of Christ we find equal footing at the cross. A community of believers who live without “guilt in life” and “fear of death” is a community who can boldly love one another for the sake of the Gospel. We can draw near to each other without shame because the Gospel puts us all in the same place: we’re sinners saved by grace, and no one can brag about any spiritual achievements. That’s true for those who’ve walked with Jesus for many years, and that’s true for those who have recently been saved. We’re all in desperate need of Jesus.



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