Why Do We Stand and Greet during Service?
There are many different elements to a Christian worship gathering. The practices we perform on Sunday mornings (or whenever the church decides to meet) have a purpose. Participating in the Lord’s Supper serves as a reminder of Christ’s death, which Paul says is how we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) Baptism is, despite the church’s many controversies, an act that signifies a person’s initiation into the church. These acts are connected to many different accounts recorded in the scriptures besides Christ’s death and resurrection, such as the blood over doorways in Exodus for communion or the flood waters in Genesis as an act of judgment for baptism.
There is one act that I’ve always found peculiar. Many churches have a specific time to greet one another during the service. Recently, I thought about how many of the members have already been in conversation in the foyer, or narthex. A natural occurrence for any gathering is that the people greet each other and converse. Why has the church found the need to have a time set aside for greeting one another during its time for worship?
At a local church here in Dallas, there are about 1,000 people who attend a service. Because of this they have turned this time into a bit of a hybrid. From the stage, a pastor says, “Please stand up, greet your neighbor, and scoot in toward the middle aisle so people can easily find seats.” As people come in, it is more difficult to locate seats if everyone is spread out. But to me, it feels a bit forced. It isn’t that I don’t want to greet people at church. Far be it from me to ignore the rest of the body of Christ! No, I cannot do that, but I still wonder why we feel the need keep this time of service.
At another church with more liturgical leanings I have discovered they have a different name for this time. They call it “Pass the Peace.” When it is time to stand and greet each other, they turn and say, “Peace of Christ be with you,” or “Peace be with you,” or simpler still “Peace.” I found this to be a pretty subversive but significant change. On one account, we are simply greeting each other; on the other, we are sharing the peace of Christ with each other. One is strictly horizontal, person-to-person. The other has both vertical and horizontal elements. It is a recognition that we are not just being nice to each other. We are literally sharing Christ’s love with each other. We are consciously appropriating our unity with one another in our having been bound with Christ and His love for us.
Let me add that our practices during a worship gathering all work together to help us dwell on God’s love and work for us. They are meant to guide our hearts to a posture of worship. There is nothing magical or instantaneous about passing the peace, but a heart that is habituated through many different practices to express the peace of Christ will more and more look a lot like Him! “For [Christ] himself is our peace…in whom the whole structure (the church), being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:14, 21)
Brian Condra is the associate director of admissions at Dallas Christian College.