“Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.” (1 Thessalonians 5:26)
I remember when our daughter Hannah was in 8th grade. She had a boyfriend, Matt, whom she invited to church for the first time. If you are going to date my daughter, you are going to have to be tough, with a good sense of humor. First, I made him stand and introduced him to the whole congregation. Then, I asked all the women to make him feel at home by “Greeting him with a holy kiss!” Matt was a good sport, so I let him continue to date our daughter. And I took the wrath of dozens of mainly mothers who said, “You were way too mean to that poor young man.” I replied, “Malarkey, if he can’t take it, I don’t want him around my daughter.” Oh, you should have seen the righteous indignation of their part. Meanwhile, there was a group of dads’ of young daughters, standing off to one side, giving me a big thumbs up!
According to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, “In the New Testament the kiss is a greeting exchanged between Christians (see Acts 20:37; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). I better be careful how much I tell you, or the extroverts in the congregation will start requesting we kiss instead of shaking hands during the “Passing of the Peace!” I believe the ancient Christians kissed rather than shook hands, offered a fist bump, or the always uncomfortable bro-hug, to symbolically and physically express an intimacy usually reserved for immediate family.
The Apostle Paul was attempting to bond with the congregational members at the Church in Thessalonica. Paul knew that if he did not have a deeply personal relationship with the people there, they would not bond with him and therefore, not internalize his message of God’s good news. If we, in the church, do not have an intimate, familial bond with each other, we will not be as supportive and loving as needed to support each other in our walks of faith.
Today, think about the people with whom you feel the most intimacy, and who you would feel comfortable sharing a kiss - like you might with a parent or sibling. Is there anyone outside your immediate family where you feel that kind of intimacy? Is there anyone at the church you are that close to that you could share a familial kiss? Is that only because of contemporary social mores, or is it also due to a lack of social and spiritual intimacy in the church? If so, rather than blame the church for not having people for whom you can feel a sense of closeness, spend some time developing deeper relationships in your church home. The deeper our spiritual relationships, the more fulfilling our church experience, and the more meaningful our relationship with God becomes. Take a risk in reaching out to others, but may I recommend you start with a hearty handshake!