“Greet one another with a holy kiss”, Paul wrote to several churches. This is a sign of brotherly love. People are coming near, they are literally in touch, which is a sign of acceptance and belonging.
Many Christians have just ignored this command, because it doesn’t fit in their culture. Instead, they have found other ways to express their brotherly love. A warm handshake, a slap on the shoulder or a friendly greeting. And that’s totally fine, for Paul undoubtedly wasn’t focused on the form but on the intention of the greeting.
Corona (COVID-19) forces us to find new forms
Many Christians worldwide suddenly find themselves in a situation where they are forced to review their normal ways of showing love, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus makes showing love as we usually do, into something dangerous. We need to go back to the intention and find a new form for it.
The virus makes hospitality deadly
In many countries around the globe, the present situation is extraordinary. That requires extraordinary rules. Normally, hospitality is a very good and fully Biblical way to express love. Now, it can be fatal. Maybe I should express myself even stronger: hospitality can turn out to be lethal during a viral epidemic, for hospitality offers a real possibility for the spread of a virus that strikes hundreds of thousands of people. Since people can transfer the corona-virus without having any symptoms themselves, even a meeting between two people who seem perfectly healthy can be a potential bridge for the virus to affect new people. In such a situation, hospitality is not a manifestation of love.
Physical contact is dangerous
Unnecessarily visiting friends, the sick, lonely and others who require help, isn’t love either. The virus can’t spread without physical human contact — or at least hardly. By restricting human contact with vulnerable people to a minimum, we can greatly reduce the risk of them getting infected.
Think further than self-sacrifice
Even self-sacrifice today isn’t always an expression of love. Many people say they are not afraid to die. They want to keep serving others. That’s meant well, but nowadays it is counterproductive. The effects of the virus are not limited to people who don’t mind dying. It will also infect those who are helped by those “heroes”. Unknowingly, the do-gooder can transmit the virus to them. Or he can be infected himself by them without noticing it, and then take it to another person he wants to help. No matter how much love he intends to communicate, he is bringing himself and others one step closer to death.
Make sure there is medical care for those who need it
People don’t immediately drop dead when infected by this virus. They get sick, and many get so sick they need artificial respiration. What if you get sick unnecessarily by “doing good” and thereby contribute to the overburdening of the medical system so that others can’t get the help they need? In countries where the virus is spreading rapidly and authorities ask people to stay home, it is everybody’s responsibility to indeed stay home if they CAN, so that others who CAN’T, can get medical help if they fall ill. It is a sign of love to make sure that as many people as possible have access to medical care.
Think through the risks
But what if people have to take care of others who are already ill? In some cases, it is necessary for those people to take risks in order to care for patients. And it could be that Christians will at some point have to show love here. This should be done primarily by young and healthy people, in order to reduce the chance of caregivers getting severe complications and needing intensive medical treatment. Otherwise, their help would be counterproductive. Moreover, people who need to take risks, should isolate themselves as much as possible from others, to prevent further spreading of the virus.
Love needs to find new forms
Nowadays, a “holy kiss”, loving physical contact, is not love in countries where the corona-virus (or other viral diseases) is widespread. Hospitality is not love. Unnecessary visits are not love. All this is dangerous; for you, for them, and for others who get into contact with you or them afterwards. Love has to find new forms — for people can’t do without love. Christians especially are called to love one another (e.g. John 15:12) and to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Thank God that we have many options for communication that don’t require physical contact! Think of regular phone calls or other digital messages to people who are lonely or who are especially vulnerable to the virus. Support people who need material help — be it within your community or worldwide. Use your gifts to serve others. Find non-physical ways to share the hope you have in Christ. Pray for others, and let them know, like Paul did when he couldn’t meet Timothy physically and longed to see him: “I thank God… as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3-4).