At a recent Eucharist that I attended at Peterborough Cathedral, we arrived at that point in the service that some Baptists call ‘clammy handshake time’. Yes, it was the Sharing of the Peace!
I was struck by contrasting examples of the way in which peace was shared with me. As I was circulating and shaking hands, one woman put her hand in mine but was already looking towards the next person as she shook it and declared, ‘The peace of the Lord be with you.’ No eye contact was made. No smile was given. It seemed to me that peace was shared in word only. Contrast that with another person, who knew me and approached me specifically to wish me well as my family and I prepared to move to Newbury, and to share God’s peace with me. This time the action matched the words.
It got me thinking about the Sharing of the Peace. Why do we do it? Where does it come from? I have to admit that it’s not usually a big part of my Baptist tradition, although I will occasionally encourage people to share the peace in the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper as we tend to call it.
A quick bit of research pointed me back to the Didache, an early handbook for the Christian Church. This in turn points back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, confirming their use in the early Christians’ practice of Communion:
‘[Therefore], if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something again you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; then come and offer your gift.’ (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).
So, sharing the peace is about being reconciled with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That makes sense!
Happily, I don’t seem to fall out with a companion believer too often and then have to leave my gift at the altar to go and be reconciled. I suspect this is true of most Christians (or am I just being naïve here?). Why, then, share the peace at all? Perhaps there is a principle at stake here, which allows us to enter into the practice of reconciliation when we need to? Sharing the peace reminds us that humanity is fallen, and that the Church is a part of that, and individual believers are a part of that. It reminds us that we all need to be reconciled to Christ. It is not just a way of saying ‘hallo’ to one another, but rather a sharing of the peace that comes to the world through Christ alone. When we share the peace, we are preparing ourselves and one another to take the bread and wine which reminds that Christ reconciled the world to himself by the Cross!
With all of that in mind, I might encourage my congregation to share the peace more often!
What are your thoughts on, and experience of, sharing the peace?