Passing the Peace as Committed Neighborliness

It had been a long weekend in the Jamieson household. It was the middle of January in Michigan, which meant the Jamiesons were huddled inside around their fireplace trying to stay warm in the midst of a blizzard. The roads were icy, the driveway was snowy, and the temperatures were dropping. To make matters worse, Mom had the flu. With Mom barely able to get out of bed, it was up to Dad to keep things organized around the house and, more importantly, to keep three-year-old Cecilia occupied. Dad and Cecilia played with toys, they danced to music, they built a snowman—they did everything they could to give Mom time to rest. They even baked some delicious chocolate chip cookies that too quickly disappeared.

By the time they got to church on Sunday morning, they were feeling a little worn out. Dad made sure he had his coffee, and Cecilia even brought one of her prized blankies into church so she could take a nap during the service. Then the pastor spoke: “Let us pass the peace to one another.” Passing the peace is a beautiful moment in the liturgy when people see, hear, and touch one another. It’s a moment when we are reminded of our humanity and one another’s humanity. A moment when we are invited out of the competitive and cutthroat world and into a world where peace is the foundation of conversation. A time when God’s relationship with us transforms our relationships with each other. Dad leaned over, kissed Cecilia on the head, and said, “God’s peace.” Then he reached out his hand to Cheryl, a friend sitting one row ahead of him, and said, “God’s peace.” She responded in kind. Then, not out of nosiness, but from that foundation of peace, she asked, “Where is Mom?” Dad explained that she was under the weather. Cheryl responded empathetically, but we were soon called back by the pastor to continue in the liturgy. We never got a chance to finish the conversation.

“The odd insistence of the God of Sinai is to counter anxious productivity with committed neighborliness. The latter practice does not produce so much; but it creates an environment of security and respect and dignity that redefines the human project.”

—Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), p. 28.

Two days later, things had not gotten much better for the Jamiesons. Mom was still sick. Dad was running out of things to do with Cecilia. And they were faced with Dad having to return to work after the long weekend. But then Mom’s phone rang, and when she picked it up she heard Cheryl’s voice. Cheryl asked what the Jamiesons’ favorite meal from Costco was and offered to deliver it for dinner that night. A sense of relief swept over Mom. In that moment of passing the peace, Cheryl saw, heard, and felt the needs of the Jamieson family. That restful moment freed her from the busyness of the world to be a committed neighbor to her friends. Upon delivery, Dad opened the door, and in a lighthearted way Cheryl said, “How long, O Lord? How long will this sickness continue?” Cheryl’s words struck a chord with Dad. They gave him permission to feel. They reminded him that nothing is too small to speak to the Lord about. That night, the Jamieson family ate and were satisfied. God provided for them through the love of a neighbor who had time to pass the peace.

God loves to give God’s people moments of rest so we can bear love to our neighbors. That is what God taught the Israelites after God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They had experienced no rest for four hundred years in Egypt, but when they met God at Mount Sinai they were shown another way. They no longer had to be machines who never got a day off. Instead, they rested every seventh day so they could enjoy time with each other and have the space needed to be kind to one another. The passing of the peace in the liturgy is an opportunity for us to remember why God gives us rest: so that we can glorify God in our love for our neighbors.

In the conclusion of his book Becoming Friends of Time, John Swinton writes about the practice of offering respite to those who care for people with profound intellectual disabilities as a means of offering Sabbath rest. Swinton says,

“Friends of the timefull God are called to create Sabbath spaces, to create places of respite, safe havens where those who offer care can find comfort, safety, and rest. If it is the case that time is a gift and if disciples are people who have learned to live within God’s time, then giving away the gift of time to those who care is central to living faithfully” (John Swinton, Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p. 210).

Although the Jamiesons were in different circumstances than the audience Swinton wrote to, Cheryl gave them respite through a meal, which thereby provided Sabbath rest. God used Cheryl’s restful moment of passing the peace to extend God’s rest into a whole family on a cold, snowy, January night in Michigan.

A page later, Swinton quotes Jean Vanier: “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” Passing the peace is ordinary. Providing a meal is ordinary. Yet some of the most profound moments in my spiritual journey have been in ordinary moments like these—a meal, a note, a word of encouragement, a listening ear. God’s world is one in which all people can find purpose and meaning. It is a place where committed neighbors can journey together in life, passing the peace back and forth.

Travis Jamieson is a writer and a chaplain at Beacon Hill at Eastgate, a retirement community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and received his Master of Divinity degree at Calvin Theological Seminary in 2020.

Reformed Worship 141 © September 2021, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.