A Kiss of Love

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What could be more appropriate on Valentine’s Day than a kiss?

That could be understood in several different ways, of course. 

It’s a given that millions of people will be enjoying at least one Hershey’s Kiss today.  Those 23-calorie guilty pleasures have been on the scene since 1907.  Interestingly, no one knows how they got their name.  Some people insist that it describes the sound made by the original assembly line machine that brought them into the world.  It’s more likely that “kiss” simply denotes a bite-size piece of candy – a century ago, that word was synonymous with morsel or tidbit. 

More than 70 million Kisses are cranked out every 24 hours.  The confectioners at Hershey have generated at least five dozen different flavors beyond basic milk chocolate – including pumpkin spice, green tea, and New York cheesecake. 

If you’ve ever visited the town that Milton Hershey built from scratch in the Pennsylvania countryside to provide a home for his chocolate empire, you’ve seen the more than 100 streetlights that are shaped like Kisses.  On December 31, people don’t huddle outside to watch a ball drop.  Instead, the ceremonial raising of a 300-pound “Kiss” signals the start of a new year – one in which more people than ever are likely to sample the treasures that emerge from Hershey’s factories.

What, after all, can possibly be better than chocolate?   

The writers of Scripture would make the case that nothing, in the end, is sweeter than healthy relationships – with God and with everyone else. 

Which brings us to kissing on the pages of the Bible.  Kisses are referenced at least 45 times, and chiefly reflect the Middle Eastern practice of relating to one’s closest relatives and even total strangers with a degree of physical affection that Westerners sometimes find unnerving.

For centuries, children in the Near East and Palestine have been taught to kiss their parents as a form of greeting.  Women often kiss other women, first on one cheek and then the other, as do men.  In both ancient and modern times, a shared kiss between a man and a woman, within sight of others, is considered immoral.  Some Arab cultures even forbid spouses to hold hands in public.  Ironically, Americans generally shrink from too much physical contact with neighbors or business colleagues, but are fully accommodated to public displays of affection between lovers. 

During Bible times, disciples coming into the presence of their rabbi would customarily offer a kiss.  This was typically a kiss on the hand – a gesture that communicated honor, respect, and gratitude.

The Gospels tell us that Judas, accompanied by a band of soldiers, kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We don’t know if he kissed Jesus on the hand, the cheeks, or perhaps even the lips.

What we do know is that his kiss was a searing act of betrayal.  It simulated “normalcy.”  He had told the soldiers, I’ll approach my master, just as I always do, and that’s how you’ll know whom to arrest.  Instead of a sign of love and respect, his kiss was the first step down a pathway of injustice that would lead to torture and execution.

According to the New Testament, followers of Jesus are under standing orders to share signs of affection with fellow disciples. 

“Greet one another with a holy kiss,” says Paul in Romans 16:16.  Peter adds, “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (I Peter 5:14).  Three other verses affirm the same thing.

How do we live out such commands in a culture that is reticent about physical contact – not to mention entering the third year of a pandemic? 

It’s not enough simply to smile, wave, and say, “Hugs and kisses to everyone.”  God is calling us to go to each other individually.  We are to pay attention to each other – even to those with whom we disagree about a dozen things, and those who seem to go out of their way to leave us feeling worthless and neglected whenever we’re together.

Our temptation will be to walk away.  “It’s her turn to apologize,” we may rationalize.  Or “I can’t bring myself to feel a shred of respect for that man.” 

But this is not about what we feel.  This is God’s command

Our culture insists that our hearts must go first, and then our bodies will follow.  But things are different with Christ.  Our bodies go first.  Even in the absence of feelings, our call is to approach each other and initiate a greeting.  We may offer a handshake, a fist bump, or a touch on the shoulder – physical acts that in our part of the world communicate affection, respect, and openness. 

And miraculously, more often that we can imagine, our feelings will begin to align with our actions.  Because we have said Yes to God’s command, the edges of the relational iceberg begin to melt. 

Is anything better than chocolate?

Yes – choosing to show love for someone, even when our feelings haven’t yet come around. 

That turns out to be the kind of “kiss” that lasts a whole lot longer than the ones that come in a Hershey’s bag.