When our son was about three, he entered an eighteen-month obsession with Spider-Man.
He wore a hand-me-down Spider-Man costume whenever he could. He sported Spider-Man snow boots well into the heat and humidity of late spring in Richmond, Virginia.
“Draw Pider-Man, Mama!” he’d chirp whenever he saw me holding any sort of writing utensil.
Spider-Man bedsheets, Spider-Man toothpaste, Spider-Man coloring books, Spider-Man stickers to peel off of walls, mirrors, and my grandmother’s antique writing desk.
It was his thing.
Paul’s “Holy Kiss Commandment”
In four of his letters to the early church, Paul closes things out with a command for believers to greet one another with what he calls “a holy kiss.”
We see it first in Romans 16, couched between salutations directed to specific “fellow workers in Christ” and a word of warning to watch out “for those who create dissensions and obstacles.”
The Corinthians hear it in both of their letters—and both times it follows instructions to stand firm in their faith and to love one another.
In Romans 16, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the exact same phrase: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
He switches it up in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, saying instead (emphasis mine): “Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.”
Here’s how he sets it up:
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. Brothers and sisters, pray for us too.”
And then . . .
“Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:12–26, NET)
If I had to choose my favorite “holy kiss commandment” from Paul, this is the one. I love this one most because it closes out a passage focused on knowing the members of the body. Here, the holy kiss is a greeting born out of such seeing and affection.
"Be at peace among yourselves."
Peace comes with knowing sources of conflict and seeing where the soothing balms of grace and forgiveness must go. And from recognizing where our brothers and sisters lives don’t experience peace and pursue it alongside them.
“. . . admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak . . .
You can’t admonish the undisciplined if you don’t know who they are. You can’t comfort the discouraged if you don’t know the source of their pain. You can’t help the weak if you don’t have eyes to see them.
“. . . all the brothers and sisters.”
Paul didn’t add a demographic disclaimer on this one. Male and female, all of them. A holy kiss for the family of faith regardless of race, social status, or age.
A Holy Kiss for Spider-Man
During our son’s Spider-Man phase, whenever we went to church, members of our congregation didn’t greet him with a wave or a forced high-five or a hello. They’d greet him by pretending to shoot webs at him.
Every Sunday, countless grown men and women touched their middle and ring fingers to their palms, extended their thumbs, pinkies, and index fingers, and stretched their hands out towards my son. Pshew-pshew-pshews bounced off the walls of the sanctuary.
They did that because they knew him. They did that because they knew he wasn't always one for a hug. They did that because they knew it would make him feel welcomed. They did that because they saw him as a part of the body, a beloved brother in their family.
A holy kiss indeed.