We’re coming back Sunday and, while I’m excited, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive as well. How many people will show up? Have we done all we can reasonably do to keep people safe? Will we be somewhat disappointed with a smaller crowd? Will the live stream be effective? Will those who stay home feel left out? If you haven’t guessed it, I’m a bit of a worrier. Please forgive.
But while I’m at it, another concern I have about Sunday is how will we greet each other? We instinctively hold out our hand for a handshake. Others go right in for the hug. It’s part of who we are, but for now we will have to abstain from both handshakes and hugs. It almost sounds cold and even unbiblical but, if it is, it won’t be the first time we’ve deviated from a biblical greeting mandate.
Four times in the New Testament we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss. All growing up I was told that we were exempt from that command, at least exempt from the “kiss” part of it. (And I must admit I was relieved to know that. Outside of my immediate family I’m not much of a physically affectionate person.) I was told that it’s not so much the specific manner of greeting that was important. What mattered was that we all gratefully acknowledge other people and in our culture the kiss could be replaced by a handshake or a hug.
And I agree with that interpretation. Never once have I felt in violation of scripture because I didn’t kiss someone when I saw them at church. One of the difficulties of interpreting a document written millennia ago is how to factor in cultural conventions. The kiss was the appropriate cultural greeting then (and even now in some places), but not so much in 21st century America.
As culture changes, so do greetings. Culture is changing again and so should our greetings.
Come Sunday there will be fewer if any handshakes and hugs. I will not be extending my hand or offering an embrace. But please don’t take it the wrong way – no more than you would that I haven’t been kissing you all these years. You may not get a handshake or hug from me, but you will be greeted. With an eye-to-eye glance. With a salute or a wave. Maybe with a hand over my heart. Maybe with a thumbs up. Maybe with a smile. We’ve had to be adaptive these last few months and I’m confident we can creatively greet one another.
I know there’s power in physical touch and I really hope we can get back to those handshakes and hugs (I can live without the kisses) but for now it’s not the kiss or the handshake or the hug that really matters. It’s acknowledging each other. It’s valuing each other’s presence in our lives. It’s greeting one another with a holy expression of the sacred love we have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.