The “Passing of the Peace” is one of the liturgical moves I wonder if we’ll need to modify once we’re able to come back together for worship. If people are afraid to touch each other, obviously hugs and handshakes won’t work. Maybe we’ll do elbow bumps, or perhaps a “profound bow,” honoring the presence of Christ in the other.
These liturgical disruptions are an opportunity to remember why we do these actions, and what they are meant to signify and effect. So what are we doing when we share Peace with one another? Here’s what Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia wrote in his Catechetical Instruction in 428 AD:
Each of us gives the Kiss of Peace to the person next to us, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgement that we have all become a single body of Christ our Lord, and so must preserve with one another that harmony that exists among the limbs of a body, loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual needs as concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing in one another’s joys.
The Peace is meant to signify the unity of the body, which is expressed not just in a single gesture on a Sunday morning, but in ongoing mutual love and support for one another, standing in solidarity with one another as one Body.
This unity is much easier to signify and remember when we share the Peace on Sunday morning. When I see your face and touch your hand, I remember that I belong to you, and you belong to me, and that our lives are bound up with each other. But during “Coronatide,” and any other time we find ourselves physically distanced from one another, it is much more difficult to hold this unity in our minds and hearts.
One of the marvels of Paul’s letters to me is his deep affection and sense of connection to Christians he was physically distant from:
- “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).
- “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19).
One of the opportunities I see in this time when we cannot physically share the Peace with each other is to, through prayer, cultivate a greater awareness of our deep unity with and connection to each other as the Body of Christ.