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Across the Pastor’s Desk: Missing handshakes, gathering

Across the Pastor’s Desk by John Holt

John Holt


Oh, how I miss handshakes. During this time of social distancing and fear of spreading the coronavirus, we have suspended shaking hands. Many times recently I have met someone new, wanted to extend a greeting, or wanted to offer condolences. A hand has been extended. Then, all of a sudden, we remember that we might be sharing germs, so we withdraw. How awkward!

Apparently, the tradition of shaking hands as a greeting came about to show that you approached in peace. Extending your right hand showed that you were not carrying a weapon, nor would be reaching for your sword.

Before the pandemic, when we were having regular Sunday church services, we would share a sign of peace by extending a hand or giving a hug to those around us. Sometimes we would suspend that practice during flu season to prevent the spread of a virus. Now we aren’t even gathering in groups. I miss it.

So, what do we do in place of the handshake, and from a distance? You can place your hand over your heart as a sign of love. Where there is love, there is peace. It’s kind of like a salute, a sign of respect, caring (not spreading germs), and a way to relieve the awkwardness of the moment with a meaningful gesture.

At least five times in the New Testament, the Apostles wrote to “greet one another with a holy kiss/kiss of love.” I’m not recommending kissing in place of a handshake. That would even more likely spread germs. However, like we sometimes blow a kiss without physical contact, we can show our friendship with a gesture from a distance, and, of course, with our words.

The most powerful demonstration of love from a distance was when, about 1,987 years ago, and a quarter of the way around the world, the Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins. He rose from the dead to offer us forgiveness, peace, love and eternal life. No more meaningful gesture has ever been offered anywhere.

During these awkward times, in which we often become more aware of our need for salvation, remember and receive Christ through faith in your heart. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15a)

When you see your neighbors, place your hand over your heart, with your words of greeting from a distance, as a reminder of “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” 1 Peter 5:14b

John Holt serves as lead pastor of First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea.