The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Passing the peace

It involves taking honest interest in eyes, life of one we're greeting

A seminary classmate of mine used to tell the story of a regular guest in her New York City church. Joe showed up every week. Like any number of other street people who found their way into Sunday worship there, Joe had an interesting background. He was homeless for as long as anyone could remember. Mental illness had turned his mind into a labyrinth of confusion. His hygiene was miserable. But Joe had a winsome gap-in-the-teeth smile, and he loved coming to worship.

Joe's favorite part of the liturgy was the passing of the peace. But it quickly became the least favorite part for some of the women. He made a practice of beelining his way toward any young single woman he could find in the pews. Then he would lunge at her, angling to plant a big juicy kiss smack on her lips.

This wasn't exactly what early Christian bishops had in mind when the "kiss of peace" was formulated in the church's liturgy. It's hard to picture that Paul had a heat-seeking missile of romantic love in mind when he admonished Christians in Rome to "greet one another with a holy kiss." Still, Joe knew an opportunity when he saw one. It just happened to be the wrong opportunity. Last I heard, Joe's pastor was trying out etiquette sessions with his zealous kisser of 54th Street.

Your church has its own traditions for exchanging Christ's peace. Those practices likely have more to do with the gregarious or reticent personalities of your people than they do with actual scriptural accounts. Your pastor's own warmth or coolness may shape the whole moment.

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