No letter ever written has had as great an impact upon the history of the world as has St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. And yet that is a bit strange, for we’ve come to the last chapter of that letter and Paul really hasn’t yet told any of us what to do; there has been no “practical application point.”
He has announced God’s Decision, but when he speaks of our decisions, his advice just isn’t all that “practical.” “Let not ‘the sin’ (What’s that?) reign in your mortal body (6:12).” “Present your bodies a sacrifice, living and holy (12:1)” “Bless those who persecute you (12:14).” “Let us not judge (14:13).” Is that practical? Isn’t that exactly why we like practical application points? They help us judge, so as not to be persecuted or sacrificed
In Romans, the closest thing to a practical application point is “Pay your taxes (13:7) . . .” That is until NOW!
In the last chapter of Romans, Paul commands that a “greeting” be given to ten women and nineteen men, some Jews, some Romans, and some Greeks, for whom there must have been deep ethical, political, and ecclesiastical tensions. No practical advice on running the church but sixteen times in twelve verses, he does command this “greeting.”
And then Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a Holy Kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”
We think, “Surely, he didn’t mean that; it must’ve been a meaningless gesture; it would be awkward for us… and dangerous.”
But he did mean it: He ends four of his letters with the very same command
It wasn’t a meaningless gesture: Peter ends 1st Peter with this command, “Greet one another with the kiss of Love (Agape).” Holy kisses are agape kisses. They may not be erotic kisses, but they’re not passionless kisses; Agape is the passion of God.
It was awkward for them just as it is for us: According to historians there were no cultural equivalents to the kissing command in Graeco-Roman or Jewish society.
And apparently, it was dangerous: By the thirteenth century, the church had substituted kissing a “kissing tablet” for kissing fellow parishioners within the church liturgy. And that makes sense. Unholy kisses are so evil, we’re tempted to dictate: “No kisses at all!”
So, why the kissing command? Scholars don’t know and Paul doesn’t say. He reminds me of my Dad. When I used to fight with my sisters, he’d sometimes just say, “Peter, kiss your sister!” It was definitely not erotic, and yet it did do . . . something.
Why the kissing command? Maybe our Father in heaven is a kisser. We were each made with a kiss, a breath breathed into a bag of dust.
Jesus told a story about the power of our Father’s kiss. If you read the story well, you’ll see that the heart of the prodigal son is transformed by the power of his Father’s kiss; the Father heals his son of unholy kisses with Holy Kisses when the boy thought he deserved no kisses.
The story ends with his older brother standing in the outer darkness and his father standing next to him saying, “You are always with me and all that is mine is yours.” But the older brother doesn’t want his little brother or his father’s kisses. He thought he had earned all his kisses. But that’s the very definition of unholy kisses; it’s the prostitution of a soul; the Father’s kisses are absolute Grace.
Why the kissing command? I don’t know, but here are some observations about kisses:
#1 Kisses are communion. When my dad made me kiss my sister, I think my heart had to acknowledge: She was me and I was she; same breath in two bags of dust from the same plot of ground. When my kids were little and they refused my kisses, I’d kiss them on the cheek while they were sleeping. According to Paul, we’re all asleep, until we are awakened.
#2 Kisses make us vulnerable. When my dad used to kiss me goodbye in front of Grant Junior High, I’d wipe off the kisses. I was trying to be proud. The kisses burned.
#3 Kisses are dangerous. Jesus was betrayed with a kiss—the most unholy of kisses. And yet, Jesus called Judas “friend.” In the morning, he lifted his head on the tree and cried “Father, forgive. They know not what they do.” He must’ve been speaking of Judas and me and you. And then he delivered up his Spirit which falls on us, the holiest of all kisses.
#4 A world without kisses is hell… God made us for intimate communion, and if we don’t receive that intimate communion, we will attempt to take that intimate communion in the most unholy of ways. And so, Paul prescribes holy kisses, to remedy the curse of unholy kisses which plague us all.
#5 Holy kisses are a communion called life. Once, when I no longer wanted to live, the Lord said to me, “Peter, I have never stopped kissing you. Sometimes my kisses are sweet. Sometimes they burn. But believe this: My kisses never stop. I love you.”
#6 Kisses can burn, and kisses can be sweet.
#7 Kisses can destroy, and kisses will create.
#8 Holy Kisses are the Judgment of God in human flesh.
#9 Kisses bring us home.
#10 Kisses are home.
#11 Kisses make all things new.
#12 Jesus is the Holy Kiss.
“If you want to know, does he love you so, it’s in his kiss.”
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
That’s a practical application.