The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A holy kiss

A little lesson about a big thing: Sharing peace

The kiss of peace as a sign of respect and/or friendship has ancient roots-as far back as Isaac's blessing of Jacob. The church inherited the tradition from these Jewish roots. The kiss of peace was given to a newly consecrated bishop, not only by the clergy but also by every member of the bishop's congregation. The kiss of peace was also given by the bishop to the newly baptized as a kind of sealing and sign of the community formed by the Spirit. This would be the first time a candidate would have received that kiss of peace as a member of the body of Christ.

Humorous depiction of sharing a kiss of peace There's evidence that Christian communities have shared the kiss of peace, a holy kiss, since Paul's writings (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Paul also introduces the idea of being at peace with the community before sharing the eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11. But even in Paul's day this would not have been a new practice. The kiss of peace would have been present at any ceremonial Jewish meal, and so it was probably present at early Christian eucharists. 1 Peter 5:14 connects the kiss with the peace of Christ (John 20:21-22).

Christ's peace shared at the beginning of the communion liturgy is a sign of Christ's presence in the proceedings (John 20:21-22). The Didache (early second-century Christian treatise) insists on the necessity of the community being reconciled to one another before they could share the meal. Personal disputes were seen to degrade the unity of the body of Christ in the meal.

"Chapter 14:1-3: But on the Lord's day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let not any one who hath a quarrel with his companion join with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be polluted, for it is that which is spoken of by the Lord. In every place and time offer unto me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the Gentiles" (Read the Didache online).

Matthew 5:23-24, which is about reconciling with other members of the community, also supports this liturgical action.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr places the kiss at the conclusion of the prayers and before the offertory at the beginning of the communion liturgy. Hippolytus of Rome confirmed this location around the turn of the next century. Two liturgical traditions come to light between the Eastern church and Rome, with the latter placing the location of the kiss within, not before, the communion liturgy. By A.D. 1000 it seems that this kiss of peace declined as a greeting in the community and was reserved only for the clergy in the Roman rite. It was not until the 20th century that the practice was revived in its earliest location before the offertory with the rite of the Church of South India in 1950 and then in the Roman Catholic General Instruction for the mass in 1970. But it was not revived as a kiss.

In the Lutheran world, Martin Luther didn't include the peace in his German mass of 1523. At that time in the Roman rite, the peace was a private priestly prayer. Its omission was probably because Luther perceived it as an empty ritual in its use in the Roman Catholic Church at the time. It remained missing in Lutheran liturgies until the Lutheran Book of Worship. The provisional resource for the LBW said:

"Extending the sign of peace is the occasion for personal contact among the entire assembly. The action should be initiated by the presiding minister and the assisting minister, and then taken up by everyone in an almost spontaneous manner. It should be a moment of joyous informality. People should be encouraged to greet those beside, in front of, and behind them; the presiding minister and assisting minister(s) should greet some of the people. Hands clasped in the usual manner or by taking the other's hand in both of yours, or some other appropriate gesture may be used. Where feasible the Christian name of the person may be added to the greeting" (Contemporary Worship Services, Volume 2: The Holy Communion, page xvi).

By the time the manual for the liturgy came out, the meaning of the peace is slightly clearer (but not much!): "It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves" (page 228).

Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship: the Sunday Assembly describes the exchange of peace this way:

"The peace functions as a kind of seal on our prayers, a sign that we are serious about our praying. It is as if we were saying, with our gesture, ‘O God, help the world with the very peace and mutual forgiveness we are trying to show here.'

"And yet, God has helped and is helping the world with a heart far bigger than our own. The peace is also a proclamation of the presence of a down payment on the very things for which we pray .... As Christ stood among the disciples on Sunday, saying ‘Peace be with you,' so we speak this very same gift to each other. In fact, the presiding minister's words make it very clear that this gift of the risen Christ is the gift that we speak: ‘The peace of Christ be with you always.'

"The exchange of the peace is a ministry, an announcement of grace we make to each other, a summary of the gift given to us in the liturgy of the Word. This ministry we do to each other is far greater than a sociable handshake or a ritual of friendship or a moment of informality. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ, we give to each other what we are saying: Christ's own peace. Then having been gathered by the Spirit around the Risen One present in the word, we turn to celebrate his meal. That this greeting of peace precedes the offering, the setting of the table, and the communion has sometimes also been interpreted as an enacting of Matthew 5:23-24 and the counsel of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. The community that comes to this supper prays for and has been given the gift of reconciliation in Christ" (pages 172-173).


Charles E. Jones

Charles E. Jones

Posted at 9:58 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/19/2009

Awful! I ask you to show me a Ho;y Kiss.

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