Surely salvation is at hand for those who fear the Lord … Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. - Psalm 85:9-10 (NRSV)
Whenever early Christians gathered, they exchanged a kiss, channeling the post-resurrection Jesus, who kissed his disciples with healing and peace. “My peace I give you,” he said, and breathed on them. His kiss was a breeze from Paradise, a drink from the River of Life.
The kiss of peace was a sign of belonging, a way to convey the Spirit of Jesus, sibling to sibling, marking out a new kind of family, a beloved community. And we’re not talking about an airy kiss-kiss landing somewhere near the cheek, but an honest-to-god smack on the lips. It was, apparently, a custom much enjoyed. Too much enjoyed. Eventually concerned church leaders had to rein it in – no seconds, and no tongue. Seriously.
Today we mostly exchange a handshake of peace, sometimes a hug. It’s not without its own controversy. It can be clumsy and self-conscious, untidy and raucous. It can feel in-groupy, intrusive and, to some people, scary. The church has rethought and reformed the kiss many times over the centuries. It will surely need to rethink it after the pandemic. But it's never abandoned it. Maybe that’s because, at its best, it’s a tangible trace of Jesus, a jolt of resurrection we can’t afford to forget.
Scripture says that when our salvation is accomplished and creation is healed, it will be like a reunion of beloveds, like siblings sharing a kiss. We keep doing this odd ancient thing as a way to practice that promise, to breathe its hope into each other, and take that hope to the world. Kiss by kiss, the kin-dom comes.
Living Christ, keep kissing us with your peace. Kiss by kiss, may the new world come.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.