One of the most important parts of the Eucharist is the Greeting of Peace. Its significance, however, is often overlooked. Which, together with the Anglican tendency for Brownian motion when giving the Peace, I find a tad off-putting. So, let’s briefly examine some of the theology of the Peace, using the Second Order for Holy Communion of A Prayer Book for Australia (APBA). This will probs also apply to many other Western orders for Holy Communion.
The importance of the Peace is shown within the structuring and division of the rubric. This is not based on length, but theological and liturgical importance. The Greeting of Peace is of short duration, but of profound importance theologically and so is allocated its own section heading. Within this section is also the Presentation of the Elements , which links the Peace to the Great Thanksgiving to follow. The Presentation has its own rich theology, but all that concerns us here is that Presentation is made by the people who have been united by the Peace.
The theology of the Eucharist, and thus the Peace, cannot be separated from the theology of the church and the ecclesiology of the church. This centres on the Patristic identification of Church with Eucharist through the Bishop as a symbol of the unity of the Church. The bishop is heir to the apostles, commissioned and empowered by Christ to ‘remember’ (not-forget) Christ through the Eucharist until Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The bishop, and through her oversight, the priests in her stead stand therefore in place of the Apostles representing Christ to the people of the Church. Christ is present in the Church, the presidency of the Eucharist and the Eucharist itself as one unified symbol and mystery. None of the theology of the Peace described below makes sense unless it constantly refers to this reality.
Some of this Eucharistic theology is embodied in church architecture and liturgy. Here is a simplified plan of a church building (diagram 1). Upon the plan we may map several important binaries or polarities (depending on your theology), diagram 2.
We see here the idea that once passing the liminal state of the doorway, coming out of the world, the people of God, the holy church, are within a perpetual journey, from our human nature to the divine nature, from our sin and separation to theosis, from death to life. This is a graphic representation of the understanding of the Church Militant as a church in exile, still wandering through the wilderness. You may like to keep this diagram in mind as we proceed.
When we structure the rubric of the order for Holy Communion (and that of the Peace), we see a core theological feature of the service: the people participate in the liturgy, mostly through a process of responses to actions by the liturgical team. At the Peace:
(1) AFFIRMATION OF THE BODY
Priest: We are the body of Christ.
Response: His Spirit is with us.
(2) RESPONSE TO THE BODY OF CHRIST
Priest: The peace of the Lord be always with you.
Response: And also with you.
(3) RESPONSE TO THE GIFT OF PEACE
The people give the Sign of Peace and RESPOND to that Sign.
The theology of this call-response is a sign of a response to God’s call, as she calls the people out to form the ekklesia. The people respond to God’s call and also call to God, who responds via the priest, representing Christ to the people. The call of God and our human (and collective liturgical) response to God is part of our unfoldment in God, being called to be the person God created us to be as Trinitarian imago dei.
“Christ’s presence in people as they respond responsibly to God’s call reconstitutes their individuality in a transformed orientation on God and others.”
This Eucharistic structure of participation via call-response at the Peace is transformative. This transformation, however, is towards personhood, not individuation, since it is initiated by God and as a response to God. The Peace has a flowing three-fold structure. (1), the church is affirmed as the Body, that is the visible, manifest aspect of Christ in the world. (2), this affirmation then allows the priest, as persona Christi, to mediate the Peace, the great Shalom, balance and harmony, to the people. (3), the people then affirm this back to the priest, strengthening the relationship between them and Christ, with peace as the medium.
This is a point where the people should initiate the action. Nowhere in the rubric does it indicate the Priest should call the people to act, though many priests do (“Let us offer one another a sign of God’s peace”). The initiative of the people is very significant. Just as they have received the peace, they have to, from their own motivation, give that peace to the world. Theologically the persons they share the peace with represents the entire world, and thus there is no need to wander around the church giving peace to everyone. Your friend is two pews up, and next to you is someone who give you the Heebie Jeebies? Good. The peace is not personal. I mean … srsly? 🙂 🙂
The people are reflecting the peace they have been given via the priest as persona Christi. As such one person should offer the peace with “peace be with you” and the other should respond with “and also with you”. This exchange mirrors the people receiving the Peace from the priest, who represents Christ. This theological mirroring is totally broken if both people initiate, “Peace be with you”.
Via this mirroring, the people are drawn into acting themselves in persona Christi with other people and to see each other as Christ. This is why, theologically, the Peace is one of the most important parts of the service. The Peace is thus a sign of the renewed community that Christ sought to establish on earth, particularly see in John’s Gospel. The Peace is a physical action and sign that the people obey the command to love one another. By doing so they, as a unified community, may be ready to encounter the presence of Christ as body and blood.
 Zizioulas, John, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass, 2001: part one.
 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness
Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964: chapter 3, paragraph 28. Accessed at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
 McFadyen, Alistair. “The Trinity and Human Individuality: The Conditions for Relevance*.” Theology, vol. 95, no. 763, Jan. 1992, pp. 10–18, doi:10.1177/0040571X9209500103.