The apostle Paul wrote the brethren in Rome “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). Throughout history various cultures have had distinct ways of greeting another person. One of the common customs that Paul referred to was as is still the custom in some countries and that is of a brief kiss on the cheek. There are various versions of that greeting depending upon the culture and country, but all the while being a greeting. There are some cultures where people bow to various degrees to one another, from a slight bow of the head to a complete body bow. Various forms of hugs are also common greetings from culture to culture. Then there is the greeting that we most often use and that is the handshake. Historically the shaking of hands as a greeting and to confirm an agreement or contract has been used since long before Jesus came to the earth. If Paul were writing to the Lord’s church in the 20th century he might write “greet one another with a holy handshake.” The use of the word “holy” is to indicate that our greeting of shaking hands, or the “kiss” during the first century, is to be sincere or genuine because of fellowship and relationship with one another in Christ (Galatians 3:27, 1 John 1:7-9).
However, for most of the year 2020 the greeting of another by the shaking of hands has not been practiced because of precautions concerning the spread of the coronavirus. That greeting that is so special has not been able to be practiced among Christians and even friends for many months. You may have your opinion about that for various reasons, but the fact is that we are not shaking hands at this time. The handshake is a custom, but when Christians have a meeting of the hands there is that implication of a common fellowship, joy, confidence, and faith among the two. Not only is there that implication, but also there is the human touch that is so much a part of being human. When the apostle Paul met with the Ephesian eldership, as he was saying “goodbye” and about to depart they didn’t just look at one another, but Luke records that “Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him” (Acts 20:37). Just as we often greet and say goodbye with a handshake or a hug that is exactly what was happening between Paul and the elders at Ephesus. The human touch.
When a handshake takes place there is also the individuality of the hands that meet. Once you shake hands with a person that you know well you know exactly the feel of the handshake and what to expect. You know that brother John has hands that are large and with a firm grip. You know that sister Sally will have small hands and a light handshake. You know each Lord’s day that brother Sam has hands that are rough because he works doing manual labor, but that brother Bob’s hand will be smooth. There is the individuality of the handshake and meeting of the hands of each brother and sister in Christ. The handshake is a part of our culture and a part of the church’s culture too. Some may not miss the “holy handshake”, but many do.
Maybe when the pandemic has passed and Christians and people in general can once again greet one another by the giving of a handshake, maybe it will have just a little more meaning and value to us as did what Paul wrote to the brethren in the first century. “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).