Loving Gestures


Paul and Peter exchange a holy kiss before heading to martyrdom.  Alonzo Rodriguez, 16th century.

Devotional for Monday, April 13

Romans 16:16a: Greet one another with a holy kiss.

The concept of the holy kiss may be in the Bible, but obviously, we’re not going to share such a greeting these days. While I’m orthodox in how I read Scripture, I’m not a literalist, and I’ll be the first to mark Romans 16:16 as one of those verses deeply rooted in its day and time.

Here’s what I do take away from Paul’s exhortation: We are to greet one another lovingly, in ways appropriate to our times. And the times, they are a-changin’. We are going to have to figure out the most appropriate way to greet one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and we might as well start thinking through the issue.

I have always been glad to share handshakes at the end of worship services, although in recent years I’ve grown concerned I might be a “vector,” that is, one receiving a virus or bacteria from a worshiper and then passing it along to someone else. I’ve also noticed that when I get sick, it seems to happen late on Monday night or Tuesday morning, telling me someone probably vectored me on Sunday. (That’s probably not the right way to use the word.)

Confession time: After people have shaken my hand repeatedly during cold and flu season, I tend to hold it out to my side, careful not to touch my face until I can wash thoroughly. Or I avoid handshaking entirely, if I can, although people don’t like it when the pastor seems stand-offish.

After our experience with COVID-19, I expect that avoiding unnecessary physical contact will become more the societal norm, even for pastors. There’s already a push to end the handshake. But there’s still that matter of Paul’s exhortation. We need a formal way to greet one another and show mutual love.

Asian cultures use a bow, as do European cultures led by nobility. Having practiced karate for several decades, I’m comfortable with a formal bow. The only problem is, bowing has deep hierarchical roots. The person with junior status bows a little lower than the person with senior status. As Christians and Americans, we tend to dislike class distinctions.


I like the symbolism of the clasped prayer hands held to the chest and a bow of the head, along the lines of what you might see in a yoga class. But therein lies the problem—the gesture is rooted in a theologically disparate religion. That could get confusing. Additionally, I was surprised to find that some cultures also use this gesture in a hierarchical way, hands held higher when before a superior.


We do have ancient Christian gestures that could be quite effective. I noticed some are evident in a picture I posted with an earlier devotional: hands clasped in a prayerful gesture (much like the “yoga hands”), hand over heart, or hand held in a sign of blessing. I’m not sure why “Lefty” has his hand on the right side of his chest.

ChristWashesFeet(with circles)

American Sign Language could help, too. It might take a few minutes to learn the hand positions and movements, but here’s how the American Sign Language University suggests signing “The peace of the living Christ be with you.” 

Any of the simple hand gestures with distinct Christian roots probably would serve us well, particularly when combined with a blessing or an expression of love. Maybe we can try them all and see what sticks.

What matters is that viruses and bacteria don’t stick, and that we all can be together again, expressing our love!

Lord, bless us with your wisdom as we seek new ways to show each other gestures of Christian love.


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