New Years are often celebrated with much joy – plus a little apprehension – as one prepares to meet the challenges and opportunities that a new calendar year may bring. As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, kisses are exchanged as a natural expression of joy and celebration, even between strangers.
When the apostle Paul exhorts the saints to greet one another with a “holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12;1 Thessalonians 5:26) it is not a reference merely to the accustomed form of greeting in the first century, but is imbued with the sense of holiness that comes from being in relationship with the Lord Jesus and his saints. In three of these Pauline exhortations the peace of God is underscored in the context, which is, a peace whose essence is eternal. Similarly, Peter’s exhortation to greet one another with a “kiss of love” is cast in the context of the peace that is enjoyed by all those who are in Christ (1 Peter 5:14).
Of course, greeting everyone who comes to church with a “holy kiss” is not the usual pattern of our assemblies, at least in the Sydney Diocese! So how are we to apply the apostles’ mandate? The usual response is to greet one another with a “holy handshake”, which is the acceptable cultural norm for many of us. This is good as far as it goes, as long as it provides enough emphasis upon the character of holiness.
References to kissing in the Bible are more frequent than one might imagine.
There are different types of kissing.
The kiss of intimacy between lovers is referred to in Song of Songs 1:2. However, more frequent references are to the kiss of intimacy between family members or friends: between a father and a son, a daughter and her mother-in-law, a grandfather and his grandchildren, two brothers, or two cousins; or between friends such as David and Jonathan or Paul and the Ephesian elders. All these are genuine expressions of affection and love, without any sense of the erotic (apart from Song of Songs).
On the other hand there are also kisses of manipulation. Here the outward sign of kissing is in fact a deception, such as the kiss of a prostitute (Proverbs 7:13). However, Judas’ kiss of betrayal in Gethsemane is the exemplar of such deceitfulness (cf. Proverbs 27:6). Absalom’s kisses given to his supplicants and Joab’s kiss of Amasa are other examples of the misuse of a kiss to gain advantage and deceive – to turn good into evil.
The third kind of kiss to which the Bible refers is the kiss of homage. Samuel’s kiss of Saul upon anointing him king is one such example, as are the kisses involved in pagan worship of calf idols or images of Baal. However, the pre-eminent act of homage with a kiss is revealed in the second psalm:
Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest he be angry...
Blessed are all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:11-12)
The kisses bestowed upon Jesus by the woman who anointed his feet are expressions of such homage. True disciples of Jesus are those who have “kissed the Son”: offered their lives in total surrender to the Lord Jesus in whom alone is found our refuge and our salvation. Once we have kissed the Son, we are able to offer a “holy kiss” to other Christians – members of Jesus’ family. This is not just the kiss of friendship or familiarity, it is the greeting that comes from a shared holiness, a shared inheritance, a shared love that is grounded in our being “in Christ”.
We dare not treat each other with disdain, let alone deception. Our attitude towards each member of Christ’s family ought to be characterised by the holiness of Jesus and his servanthood (Philippians 2:5).
So, as this New Year has begun, let our relationships reflect our status as “saints” – God’s holy ones– who have been saved by Christ for holy living and holy loving.
For us, 2017 is a year nearer home, a year nearer the return of Christ who will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, which we shall enjoy with all the saints for a wondrous eternity. Therefore greet one another with a holy kiss.
Archbishop Writes is a regular feature of the Diocesan magazine, Southern Cross, in churches now.