When we gather to worship on Sunday we are in a way taking part in two different services.
The first is the Ministry of the Word: A welcome, a reflection on our sins, the reading of Scripture and the proclaiming of the Gospel, Sermon, Creed and prayers.
The second part is the Ministry of the Sacrament where are focus switches to the table and the offering of bread and wine, Christ’s Body and blood.
In the early church the first part of the service would have been open to all, and very close to the services in the synagogue that Jesus was a part of. The second part of the service would have been more private - those who were not yet baptised would have left before the bread and wine were offered. Being baptised wasn’t a case of booking a service either. Baptisms frequently happened at Easter and adult candidates would undergo forty days of prayer, fasting and preparation before they became full members of the church. This discipline was eventually adopted by all Christians and became the season we now celebrate, Lent.
At the hinge of the first and second parts of the service we now have the peace, rooted in Paul’s and Peter’s commands to “Greet one another with a Holy Kiss of Love”. It may seem to be a disruptive break in our worship, but then so would have been the leaving of the unbaptised in the earliest church. The children come back in, we move around and greet one another, sharing Christ’s Peace.
And it is the Peace of God that we share.
New Zealand Anglican Priest Bosco Peter’s writes:
“The Peace is part of worship …To seek out our friends and ignore the stranger or visitor or the one with whom we really need to seek reconciliation is to miss the point of the Peace. The Peace anticipates the coming kingdom … it is the Peace which should shape the atmosphere of morning tea after church, rather than the atmosphere of … morning tea being that which shapes the way we relate at the Peace.”
Jean Lebon lays down a challenge:
“It (the Sign of Peace) is a point where one sees whether the liturgy holds together. If the congregation has not really been welded together during the course of the Mass, then it is useless and inappropriate to perform this action.”
None of this is a criticism of how we share the Peace at All Saints! Rather it is a reminder of why we share the Peace with one another. And not just one another. At the end of the service we ‘Go in Peace’ – taking all that we have shared out into the wider world. Bringing God’s peace and the joy of our Christian family to our friends, family and neighbours.
So Peace be with you this Lent,