Greeting One Another with a Holy Kiss
The First Sunday after Pentecost
June 7, 2020
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. (II Corinthians 13: 11-12a)
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth “Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss!” Now there is a bit of instruction not likely to come from any church official in these days of coronavirus and the “Me Too” movement. We are counseled today not to get within six feet of one another – much less touch one another with such intimacy as a kiss.
Oh, I know that many have tried to temper this passage from II Corinthians as J. B. Phillips did in his paraphrase of the New Testament. He interpreted the passage in this way:
11 Last of all then, my brothers, good-bye! Set your hearts on this maturity I have spoken of, consider my advice, live in harmony, be at peace with one another. So shall the God of love and peace be ever with you. 12 A handshake all round, please!
Other more recent interpreters like Eugene Peterson have phrased it in this way:
11 And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. 12 Greet one another with a holy embrace.
Still others have tried to explain away this curious instruction from Paul as a cultural artifact. As Howard Brant who is a Doctor of Missiology at Trinity Theological Seminary has put it:
In many parts of Ethiopia, if you know someone well, you may kiss them first on one side of the face, then the other, and then a third time on the other. There is nothing romantic or sexy about it… it is just like a warm handshake in other cultures of the world. …
When it is part of your culture, it means nothing. And it just implies a warm friendly greeting… and nothing more.
But I think that Paul meant more by this “holy kiss” than a physical kiss, a handshake, an embrace, or a warm friendly greeting. It meant much much more for Paul, if you listen carefully to what he asked the Corinthians to do! Paul has asked them to “put things in order,” listen to his appeal, “agree with one another,” and “live in peace.”
Agree with one another and live in peace?! Now there is a “holy kiss” that is hard to come by in our fractious world, as well as in many a congregation of Christ’s oftentimes contentious disciples.
All who are members or contribute to Good Shepherd recently received a survey in their email. The survey is intended to get everyone’s feedback so that the committee that will lead the search for a new rector for Good Shepherd has a clear idea of our wants and needs. Finding a new shepherd for one of God’s gatherings of believers is an arduous task. One must winnow out a host of possible candidates in order to find just the right person with the requisite pastoral skills and understanding of Christ’s good news to address our myriad needs, build our faith, and inspire our discipleship.
The search for a new pastor is a time when everyone’s expectations are high, and yet the opportunities for disappointment and disagreement are legion. As a result, there is no holier kiss that we can give our brothers and sisters in the congregation than to heed Paul’s words and, in the name of the mercy and love that we have received from Jesus Christ, strive to “agree with one another” and “live in peace” as we search for the rector God is calling to our parish.
Hailing originally from Mississippi, I have never been able to rid myself of my affection for country music. As they say, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. One of my favorite country music tunes is one by Clint Black called “Love is Something We Do.” The tune is about romantic love, of course. But the lyrics might have been written by the Apostle Paul:
Love is certain, love is kind
Love is yours and love is mine
But it isn’t somethin’ that we find
It’s somethin’ that we do
Later in the song, the tune goes on to say:
Love’s a little and a lot to ask
An endless and a welcome task
Love isn’t somethin’ that we have
It’s somethin’ that we do
Finding just the right rector to teach us God’s word, lead us in mission, and inspire us to new heights of discipleship will not be easy. And yet finding the right person for this task may be the easier part of this search. Much more taxing may be Paul’s call for us to extend to one another the holy kiss of seeking agreement despite our varied and sometimes conflicting needs and wants. Extending such a kiss to one another is not somethin’ that we have automatically. It’s somthin’ that we must do.