Our Scripture for the day is a very short verse from 2 Corinthians 13:2:
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
We will see as we go along that obeying Jesus’ commandment to love one another can be truly and profoundly difficult. Why? Contrary to modern takes on the human self, we are not really all that inclined toward seeking the good of and interest of others before our own. Growing in love is a central part of our calling as Christians, and often our selfish self rebels.
But sometimes that love which we are to give one to another is not terribly difficult. I love this very short verse, found in more than one place in the writings of Paul – “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Since we don’t know exactly how they did the holy kiss thing, I am going to offer a prosaic rendering: “Greet one another with an act that symbolizes true Christian love and affection.”
Maybe that act could be a hug along with words of welcome. Maybe that act would involve would standing face to face and clasping arms and expressing the joy of seeing the other. Maybe that act could be a short forehead nuzzle. I really don’t know. The point however is that we stop what we’re doing, we notice each other, and we express gratitude and joy at the privilege of seeing one another. We include our bodies and our eyes and our voices. We are whole people, body and soul, and we bring that wholeness into our greetings.
Well, I said this was easy and not complicated, but maybe it is less that way than I thought. Why? Because our culture has trained us to be emotional islands unto ourselves. Indeed, more and more, every man is an island. We’re busy. We’re focused. These types of greetings are inefficient. They don’t work with the frenetic church services we have orchestrated. They don’t respect our precious and holy to-do lists. So we run past others and maybe mumble “hi” as we go.
In this regard, in certain times of my life, I have been the chief of sinners. I remember the days when I was teaching high school. During my free period I would go to check my box via the library and would walk right past the library workers. Eventually I got to know them. They were both Christian sisters. One day, in love, they sat me down and reamed me out for being so into myself and my stuff and my world that I did not stop to greet them. They were totally right. I was ashamed.
I have also been the recipient of this commandment lived out. I know what it means. I remember one time visiting a small African American church where a friend attended. The women, especially the older women, would came up to me, grab my hand in theirs, look me in the eye, and tell me how very glad they were to see me. There was nothing phony. I felt so deeply welcomed and loved.
Another time I remember I was in Switzerland. A small group of us went to a small English speaking church service maybe in Zurich – I can’t remember. One of the men came up to me, was able to discern in a moment that I was both a Christian brother and struggling with my faith. He grabbed my hands and told me he loved me in Christ, and asked if he could he pray for me. And he did. As Christians know from experience, no matter where in the world you are, when you meet a Christian brother or sister, there is a special and unique bond of affection. It is really awesome.
My pastor in Columbia, Reverend Glen Knecht, despite having a congregation of 2000 people, had a way of holding on to your hand in a greeting, looking at you eye to eye, and speaking to you in such a tone of love. He lived this out. I want to be like him.
Loving starts with greeting. Loving starts with noticing. Loving starts with common rituals performed with sincerity of heart.
Greeting in this way, done sincerely, diffuses tensions, encourages long suffering and forbearance, and even is a way of physically expressing the reality of forgiveness, which we all so desperately need one from another.
When you get up on Sunday morning to go to church, when you gather with your small group, when you find yourself heading toward a gathering of Christian brethren, give yourself time to greet others with the love and affection and peace that your brotherhood in Jesus warrants. Don’t be in such a rush. Very little on your to-do list is nearly so important.