Nowadays the custom of ‘giving the peace’ during the Eucharist is central to most Christian worship. Yet although it is among the most ancient of all Christian customs, it has been rescued only comparatively recently and, when it was reintroduced into contemporary Anglican liturgy, many folk had some misgivings and even suspicion.
We need to remember how it is referred to in the New Testament. Clearly, it was one of the most powerful and formative signs of fellowship among Christians in the early Church. From the number of times the phrase appears in the letters of both St Paul and St Peter, we know that ‘Greet one another with an holy kiss’ was almost certainly a liturgical formula which was used regularly in worship. Some scholars think this instruction helped to give rise to the accusation of scandal and immorality among Christians at the time. It may even have been the origin of the custom in some places of segregating the congregation and arranging church seating to keep the sexes apart on either side of the building!
By now, surely, we see things very differently. Most of us would feel deprived if the custom of exchanging the Peace were discontinued. Occasionally there is still hesitancy at this point in the service but most people now appreciate the privilege of giving the Peace to one another. The sign gives real and physical expression to our recognition and acceptance of each person within the Christian family.
These thoughts come to mind as we shall celebrate Trinity Sunday this month. Which of course is our church patronal festival. On Trinity Sunday we shall look forward to welcoming the Rev Ada Whittock as our celebrant and preacher.
One of the signs of the trinitarian nature of God is ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. God the Holy Spirit can only draw us closer to the Father by drawing us closer to one another and if we make this a stumbling block between ourselves it cannot help but obscure our vision of God: a rather solemn yet joyful thought when we give it full consideration. Giving one another the sign of Peace is as demanding and as creative as that.
Canon Andrew Gough – vicar