“Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (verse 26.)
I’m sorry, but that sounds just plain weird to me. And it is, at least to my own cultural ears and imagination, rooted in 20th century America.
But might such an idea still have significance for us? Though the cultural differences are important and not many people advocate literally going back to a kiss, the holy kiss is an important concept. A holy kiss is a kind of greeting, a family greeting. Where a family gathers together, they greet one another in some meaningful way. “Hello, ________!” I enthusiastically say, as I squeeze and bear-hug each of my kids the first time I see them each day.
A kiss is also a sign of the love and unity that St. Paul so often preached. Because
the church at Thessalonica was a family, it was appropriate for them to greet one another with a holy kiss. This holy kiss is also another way of demonstrating the fellowship in love that is to exist in the local church. In the Book of Common Prayer, part of the Exhortation that is given before Holy Communion may be taken is: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways . . . .”
Only those who are in a state of love should partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Only those who have repented of their sins and intend to obey God’s commandments should dare to presume to participate in Jesus Christ through the Holy Communion. For this reason, sometimes the early Christian priests would warn their local body that if they kissed while not in a state of charity, their kiss was the kiss of Judas.
In the context of the second half of 1 Thessalonians 5, the holy kiss makes perfect sense. Paul is writing to the entire church at Thessalonians, the people whom he considers to be his children, and so it makes sense that he lays down rules for this family of faith. Since they are family, they should greet with a holy kiss. Since they are all one body, as well, they all have a holy obligation to live in love as God’s children, under Paul as their spiritual father. The church at Thessalonica as a whole is to hear Paul’s fatherly instructions (verse 27.) In verses 14-15 we read that the church as a whole is to warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, and to pursue what is good for all (which is love.) The church at Thessalonica, and each of our churches, is one, holy body or family, and God desires that we live as if we are.
The holy kiss reminds us as well that this family of God is to be holy, that is, set apart from sin and darkness. In fact, what is most urgent to St. Paul in this final section of his letter is that the Thessalonians be holy or sanctified. This was his focus in Chapter 4, and here it is again. It must be important to St. Paul – and to us!
In verse 15 we hear (with the Thessalonians) that no one is to render evil for evil. In verse 21 we learn that we are to test all things, to hold fast to what is good, and to abstain from every form of evil. Furthermore, Paul prays that God would completely sanctify or make holy the Thessalonians, that they may be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 23.)
We are to be holy because God is holy. The fellowship we have is a holy fellowship based on the righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to become impure and unholy, then we are not loving God or neighbor, we break the unity of the church, and we have disobeyed God. In doing so, we bring shame upon the name of Christ and condemnation upon ourselves.
“It’s about holiness, stupid!” is a bumper sticker I’m thinking of having made. That’s what St. Paul would have said, for he commands that his letter be “read to all the holy brethren.”
And that is the very thing we are doing this morning. For wherever Christians read 1 Thessalonians they are reading God’s commandments to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And that is what God has called us to be.
Prayer: Father, thank You that You have made us all a part of your one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I thank You that I have been made holy by the holiness of Jesus Christ, but I pray that this holiness would be actual in my life. Help me in my sins that I might be qualified both to give and to receive the holy kiss in Your holy family, the Church.
Points for Meditation:
- Reflect on your practice of preparing to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Have you allowed adequate time for confession and repentance? Have you come with a holy heart? Are there areas that make you unable to share a holy kiss, either with a neighbor or with God?
- Practice seeking holiness today. Choose one area of uncleanness and meditate on it – how it offends God and distances you from Him and hurts yourself and others. Then reflect on practical ways that you can find to attack this sin. Finally, make this sin a particular focus of confession and repentance, especially asking God before the Lord’s Supper to remove it.
Resolution: I resolve to seek holiness today. I resolve to examine myself and deal, by the grace and commandment of God, with one sin that is polluting me and separating me from God and neighbor.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day