Do you remember your “first kiss?”
I hate to burst your bubble, but those “first kisses” you remember . . .whether it was a stolen smooch in the schoolyard, or a braces-locking embrace and teenage embarrassment: whatever you call your “first kiss” . . . was not.
Your “first kiss” was doled out when you were way too small to recall. Babies are snuggled, cuddled, and kissed by their parents and relatives and sometimes, even complete strangers. Is it any wonder that snuggling, cuddling, and kissing are the first behaviors we learn to do by ourselves? Your “first kiss” was toothless and slobbery and probably left something gooey behind. But it was that “first kiss” that initiated you into the uniqueness of being human. It was your first kiss that connected you to the universe of relationships.
The second thing you learned wrong in your kissing history was the mantra, “Don’t kiss and tell.” You say “I don’t kiss and tell?” I say, Really?
In the over-watched old movie “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan’s character is consoled by Tom Hanks whose giant conglomerate just put her little independent bookstore out of business. “It wasn’t personal,” Hank’s explains, “it was just business.” Ryan protests and proclaims, “That just means it wasn’t personal to YOU! Whatever anything is, at the very least, it should be personal!”
In other words if you care enough to “kiss,” you should care enough to “tell.”
“Kiss and tell” was the watchword of the first century church.
The “kiss” was the “holy kiss” that Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to greet each other with in today’s Epistle reading. The “tell” was both what the kiss communicated about that community and what that community had to tell to the world — the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament the kiss was given at welcomes and farewells, and was also a sign of reconciliation (Jacob and Esau) and friendship (David and Jonathan). In Judaism, the kiss had no religious/ritual function. But in Christianity, it had almost a sacramental function from the start.
It is hard for us to appreciate how totally unusual this kissing was.
In ancient cultures the familial kiss was both a right and an expectation, but limited to blood relationship or marriage. From the time of Paul Christians began referring to each other as “brothers and sisters,” and kissed each other to generate a new kind of family formed not out of biological relationship but by a kinship of faith. Whereas “kissing” was customarily used to delineate an “in” and an “out” group, a group of “others” you did not kiss, Christians were indiscriminate kissers who used kissing as a symbol of inclusion, not exclusion: kissing between unmarried men and women, kissing of slave and free, rich and poor, clean and unclean. From Hippolytus we learn that at the beginning of the third century, a newly consecrated bishop received the kiss from all members of his church before officiating at the Eucharist for the first time as bishop.
Kissing for us is a metaphor of souls touching and hearts embracing: but it is clear that in the early church the kissing was mouth-to-mouth.
Here is Cyril of Jerusalem: “Think not that the kiss ranks with those given in public by common friends. It is not such: this kiss blends souls one with another, and solicit for them entire forgiveness. Therefore this kiss is the sign that our souls are mingled together, and have banished all wrongs. . . The kiss therefore is reconciliation, and for this reason holy: as the blessed Paul has in his Epistles urged: Greet ye one another with a holy kiss; and Peter, with a kiss of charity.” (Catechetical Lecture, XXIII, 3. From The Catechetical Lectures of Saint Cyril [Oxford, 1839], 273-74. See PG 33, 1112.)
Jesus inaugurated a “kissing culture.”
He accepted kisses and touches from all sorts of disreputable characters. He drew dirty, sticky children into his lap and kissed and held them. He welcomed the kisses he received from his disciples. He scolded Simon the Pharisee for not offering him a kiss (Luke 7:45). He was betrayed by Judas’ kiss in the garden of Gethsemane. You might call Jesus a Serial Kisser.
But then Jesus came from a touchy-feely, “kissing” family. The kiss of creation came when God kissed “adam” and breathed into him the breath of life. He became the living man Adam only when God blew the spirit (“pneuma”) of life into him (Genesis 2:7).
If it was God’s kiss that brought about the creation of humanity, it was also God’s kiss that brought the salvation for fallen humanity. God’s kiss to “adam” created life. God’s kiss to the world, to the fallen state of humanity, was born in Bethlehem — “a Savior, ‘tis Christ the Lord.” God’s kiss to the world was Jesus himself. The “God of love” Paul proclaimed could not bear to watch the people of the earth live without hope, redemption, and love. God’s kiss, the kiss of love that all good parents bestow upon their children, took the form of the Last Adam, Jesus the Christ.
Kiss and tell. Jesus, the kiss of God to this world, “told all.” He preached and prayed, healed and held, suffered and died — all in order to “kiss and tell” the love of God for this world.
What Jesus “told” was the message of redemption, the message of forgiveness, the message of amazing grace and endless love. Even as his apostle Paul continued to “encourage,” or “exhort” cantankerous congregations such as these Corinthians, Jesus kept chipping away at the hard-shell of humanity in order to find a soft cheek to kiss.
Consider the story Jesus told of the “prodigal son,”
Literary scholars have called the prodigal son “the greatest short story ever told.” There is very little to condone enthusiasm for this disrespectful, take-the-money-and-run, party-boy. Yet, when the beaten down sinner shows up at the family gate, the father responds with joy. The father responds, amazingly and unpredictably: “He ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father of the “prodigal son” shows no hesitation. He wants more than anything to “kiss and tell.” It is “kiss-and-telling” that brings forgiveness, redemption, and promise of new life.
God’s kiss to a soured, scornful, sinful earth was the gift of Jesus. To kiss back was the way back to a restored, redeemed relationship with God. For Ambrose, to receive the Spirit was to kiss Christ, an interpretation he based on Psalm 118:131 – “I opened my mouth and drew in the Spirit.” (Epistola 41, 15).
But Jesus had his own kiss. After a ministry of healing and helping, the resurrected Jesus had a final kiss to bestow. In John 20:21-22 Jesus “breathed” on his resurrection witnesses and invited them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ “kiss” to his followers — those in the first century and, through the power of Pentecost, every generation since was the life-giving kiss of the Holy Spirit.
If God’s kiss to the world is Jesus, and Jesus’ kiss to his disciples (from the first to the twenty-first centuries) is the Holy Spirit, then what is the “holy kiss” the body of Christ is commanded to exchange and express whenever they are gathered to “greet” each other?
The church’s “kiss” to the world is nothing less than the tale and touch of this trifecta of triumph that is available to all who will embrace truth. The church testifies with its life and its lips the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
“Trinity Sunday” is not about theology. It is about kissology. It is about kissmetrics: the ability and facility of the Body of Christ to offer the “first kiss” of salvation to a world that is desperately in need of divine embrace: the touch of love, the touch of faith, the touch of hope.
As disciples of Christ we have the calling and capability to offer a “first kiss” to everyone we meet. But first we have to be willing to pucker up! First we have to risk being rebuked and rebuffed. First we have to handle sometimes being slapped down and laughed at.
So what do you say, church? How good a kisser are we? How good are we at kissing our neighborhood, kissing our city, kissing our enemies, kissing our moment in history? This is Jesus’ kind of competition: who gets the Best Kiss Award?
Leonard Sweet Sermons, Leonard Sweet, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., 2011, 0-000-0000-1415