26 Nov 2008

Thoughts on Kissing

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Exegesis, Holy Kiss, Jesus, Kingdom, Ministry

Beginning With A Story

A couple of high school sweethearts had been dating for a while. He was nervous and she was shy. That night sitting on the swing he decided to “boldly” make his move. “Can I kiss you goodnite?” She looked at him adoringly and simply gave him a big smile but said nothing. Not knowing how to interpret such language he thought maybe he said it badly. “MAY I kiss you goodnite?” Once again she dazzled him with her smile and tilted her head but still said nothing. Totally beside himself the poor fellow blurted, “Are you deaf?” She opened her eyes and simply said, “ARE YOU PARALYZED!”

Sometimes I have to wonder if we, who claim to be in the kingdom of God, are paralyzed too. Why can’t we “kiss” our world? Over the last while I have seen how we in the church have done anything but kiss our culture, our world. Surveying a number of blogs and emails yesterday I quickly noted how often we are seen to be filled with vindictive rather than love. In a world that longs for relationship why do we have a hard time sharing the greatest definition of God ever conceived: God is love (1 Jn 4.8).

Are we as blind as the young man to the “signals” of our world that show that they are in fact ready to be loved … to be kissed by God’s People?

Kissing in Worship

In the Christian tradition the kiss was a sacred and even sacramental sign of love in worship. Not just peace but love. When we look through the New Testament there is in fact quite a bit of kissing. A relieved Father kisses his son (Lk 15.20); Jesus embraces the kisses of a prostitute and rebukes the church going Pharisee for his refusal (Lk 7.45). Paul and the Ephesian elders kissed one another in their tearful parting (Acts 20.37). Paul commands that the assembled Christians to great one another with a “holy kiss” (Rom 16.16; 1 cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.12; 1 Thess 5.26) and the apostle Peter enjoins the same act upon Christians in northern Turkey (1 Pt 5.14).

In Jewish tradition, according to the Talmud, there were three basic kinds of kisses: one of greeting, leaving, and of respect. However such kisses were carefully circumscribed. In a fascinating article in New Testament Studies “The Sacred Kiss in the New Testament” William Klassen argues that Paul is the first teacher known to “instruct members of a mixed social group to greet each other with a kiss whenever or wherever they meet.” He goes on to say there is no analogy in the ancient texts, Jewish or Greco-Roman, for the transformation of the kiss into a sign of the religious community.

This practice of kissing in worship continued as part of Christian worship. Justin Martyr tells us that after the prayers were completed that believers shared the kiss of love with one another. In the West the kiss was offered after taking the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. After sharing in the bread and the cup of salvation the church declared its oneness and love for each other with the kiss. Klassen tells us that the ritual of the “holy kiss” was a way of symbolizing to rich and poor, men and women, clean and unclean, morally pure and not so morally pure, that they were loved by God beyond anything they could imagine and that God’s Spirit played no favorites. It is a public declaration of acceptance and radical love … we are family! Kissing in worship was one of the distinctive traits of early Christianity. They shall know you are my disciples by your love. Klassen argues that the ritual must go back to Jesus himself because of its radical nature. I agree with him.

Christianity is a high touch and high love faith. This is radically symbolized by the kiss. When Jesus was willing to kiss the world, and Paul was willing to kiss (and even tell) and Peter was right there too … the question comes to my mind again: Why do we have such a hard time “kissing” our world. Does the world, like the girl above, know we are ready to kiss it? If not then why not?

Just my thoughts for today,
Bobby V

8 Responses to “Thoughts on Kissing”

  1. Stoogelover Says:

    Very interesting, Bobby. Not at all what I was expecting to read, but very interesting!

  2. jel Says:

    Very Interesting!

    I thought it was going to be something mushy. 😉

  3. BillyWilson Says:

    aww, shucks bobby. MUAH xxx

    though in all seriousness, if we’re too outward in our love for the world, well, um, they might (shudder) come in. =)

  4. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thanks for another good post with lots of historical footnotes.

    I’ve learned to “kiss” the brethren at services since working with Latin Americans, but because of my North Alabama roots, it wasn’t easy. I appreciate so much the expressive affection seen among Latin disciples, which isn’t seen as often among “gringos.”

    I have heard that the emphasis in the “holy kiss” passages is that the kiss and other expressions of affection be holy, but there is obviously more to it than that. God wants us to be visibly affectionate! It would become counterproductive to demand the kiss as a part of some routine, rather than it being a spontaneous expression of love. However, I think the scriptures (supplemented by the historical references you gave) imply more affection in our gatherings than we often show. What a big difference there is between visibly loving congregations and those that are too formal! May God help us to infuse more love and visible affection among disciples we know. Thanks, Gardner

  5. -bill Says:

    As I reflect on the many reasons I have for being thankful, I am definitely moved to give God thanks and praise for your light and life. May God’s richest blessings continue flow through you to enlighten and enrich the lives of others.

    Love in the Lord,
    Bill Williams

  6. AncientWanderer Says:

    There is hugging and kissing going on at everyone of our gatherings.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Bobby,
    This is my first time here, I am
    not even sure how I got here but glad I made it. Read a few of your thoughts and this one was rather enticing. You have an interesting way of baiting us with such a title. You had me going there for the first paragraph ;).

    I agree with you, just sometimes it’s a bit hard to “kiss” the world because of our limitations; fear, rejection, stepping out of our comfort zone, shyness and whatever else.
    But I will tell you something, I love people who can give themselves so freely to embrace & kiss the world without hesitation. I can’t wait to be just like them someday! Philippian 1:6
    Thanks for your thoughts, God richly bless you Mr. Valentine!

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    thank you for your kind words. I hope you will be back.

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