I am preparing a sermon on the final chapter of 1 Corinthians for church tomorrow. In my reading, I came across an insightful bit of commentary from Richard Hays on verse 20, where Paul commands: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Hays explains:
There is no indication here that Paul thinks of it as anything more than a sign of greeting among people who love one another. In the context of the community’s divisions at Corinth, however, the holy kiss would necessarily serve as a powerful sign of reconciliation among people who had previously been estranged. It is easy to interpret this brief imperative (“Greet one another with a holy kiss”) as a perfunctory gesture, until we try to visualize the Corinthians actually putting it into practice in a community where conflict has prevailed. Within our divided denominations can we envision the members of opposed factions and caucuses coming together and embracing in a holy kiss? As usual, Paul’s call to love is simple, radical, and embodied.
-Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, 291
What a good word. I don’t believe that a kiss is the right way in our culture to signal the love that Paul calls for in this letter. Nevertheless, the need for simple, radical, embodied love is as acute today as it ever was. This text calls God’s people to meet that need.