"Passing the Peace"



This morning the All Saints Episcopal Church family will come together in the open air for our first in the flesh service since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.  The powers that be have put an enormous amount of effort and planning into the preparation and execution of this casual morning liturgy.  With lawn chairs in hand, parishioners will be invited to set up next to one of the many measured and pre-determined positions on the sprawling yard.  Nick’s humble landscape trailer will be transformed into a shabby chic chancel adorned with greenery and bright red blooms.  Entry to the building will be restricted and ushers will shoulder the burden of flow from car to yard and back.  While seeing the people we hold so dear will be lovely, we will see their eyes and not their smiles since everyone will be required to wear a mask.

There will be no singing.  There will be no eucharist.  There will be no coffee, cookies or snacks, much to my children’s dismay.  And there will be no “passing of the peace.”  Of all the things omitted from the service this may evoke the most palpable sense of disappointment.  At All Saints, we take “the peace” rather seriously, meaning, we consider it an intermission of magnificent proportion and importance, an honorary sacrament.  People don’t merely turn to their neighbor and politely shake the hands of those seated next to them.  People cross the room, walk up and down aisles, seek people out, chase after others.  There are warm embraces, sincere exchanges and loads of love and laughter.  After our beloved Father Tom Wilson retired, an interim pastor from Virginia served our congregation.  He wasn't a fan of our exuberant, sometimes long-winded ritual, so he tried to reel us in, bring order to what he considered our momentary lapse of reason.  People did not take kindly to his attempted amendment.  Cordially but curtly we delivered the message, don't mess with the peace, pal.

Clearly, these changes are necessary in order to create a safe environment for the time being.  And I for one will not lament their exception.  These decisions are outward symbols of our concern and compassion for the well-being of others and not just for ourselves.  Funny, that sounds oddly reminiscent of a grounding tenent of some belief system...I can't put my finger on it...give me a minute....oh yeah, every single belief system, ever.  I welcome the opportunity to come together at all, even at a distance, even sans passing the peace.  The following reflection from the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor, author and podcaster explains how our changed habits don’t reflect a change of our faith, just an imperative change of practice.

“I do not know when we can gather again in worship, Lord.  So for now I just ask that:  When I sing along in my kitchen to Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" album, that it be counted as praise.  When I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as Kyrie.  When my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier, may it be counted as passing the peace.  When I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower, may it be counted as remembering my baptism.  When the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.  When I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you, may it be counted as hearing a homily.  And that as I sit at that table in my apartment and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.  Amen."

Whether you are part of a faith community or not, the love we have for each other cannot and will not be trapped in isolation.  Reaching out to each other with compassion and care will always be considered essential travel.  Passing the peace is a gift we give to each other from heart to heart not always hand to hand.  And no matter how long we must wait to gather inside or in larger numbers or in closer proximity, the divine is with us, in us and all around.