“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth:
for thy love is better than wine.”
Song of Solomon 1:2
A kiss is a terribly intimate act, whether it be a parental kiss on the forehead, a friendly peck of greeting on the cheek or a passionate kiss of lovers. Behind each kiss (in whatever form) is a trust that says, “I trust you enough that I am opening myself to the potential of you doing great harm to me.” We know this to be true, for we know of many broken hearts – perhaps, even our own – that came from a physical intimacy without the trust and the love required for such an intimacy. And, while I hate to disagree with a great song, usually a kiss is not just a kiss: it is a sign of that sacred trust between the kissers. A kiss says, I love you enough to treat you differently than all others; it says, I will be vulnerable with you, trusting and hoping that you will keep me safe. A kiss is a dangerous thing.
All of this can be seen in the Judas’ kiss of betrayal, for Our Lord Jesus Christ still opens himself to the kiss of Judas. Surely, Our Lord knew that this sign of intimacy and trust would also be the sign that propelled him towards torture and death. Surely, Our Lord knew that Judas had it in his heart to betray Him, for Christ said as much at the last supper (Mt. 26:21). Yet, Our Lord still opened himself, making himself vulnerable to receive the kiss of death from one of his most trusted friends. He accepted the kiss like any other friendly greeting that they shared in their three years together, even though Christ knew that it was disingenuous and filled with murderous intentions. A kiss is a dangerous thing.
And yet, this is not the kiss that the Lover speaks of when saying, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” These kisses are not signs of betrayal or damaged hearts! What of these kisses, these passionate signs of deep trust and love?
Well, I imagine that the Lover in the Song of Solomon would find something authentically familiar when Our Lord breathed on his disciples, shortly following the resurrection (John 20:19-23). This, of course, was not the passionate kiss of our Lovers but it had the same intimacy, for by breathing on them, Christ said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (22-23). Not only did Christ have to be open to share the Spirit but the disciples had to be open to receive the same. This is a mutual act of vulnerability. It carried within it the power not only to fill the Disciples with the Holy Spirit but also to let them share in the divine life to the point that if they do not forgive someone, Christ will not forgive them. A kiss is a dangerous thing, is it not?
Yet, breathing on someone and kissing them is not the same thing! Then, what is the kiss of God? What are the kisses of God’s mouth? Where do we see God being the most vulnerable, the most loving and the most trusting? The answer, of course, can only be found when we journey from the sweat-soaked stone of Gethsemane, up the Via Dolorosa’s bloody trail of lamentations, to the foot of the cross where we see our Lord crucified for us. How can such pain be a kiss of love?
Lady Julian points out that the cross was not an instrument of God’s wrath but an pathway – a kiss, if you will – for God to pour out his love; Christ even says to Julian, “it is a joy, a bliss, an endless satisfying to me that ever suffered I Passion for thee; and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more. ” (Chapter 22) The cross is the kiss of God’s mouth; it is the wise act of a seemingly-foolish and wanton love. And here, we behold the Lamb of God loving taking away the sins of the world; we behold the love of God so liberally poured out on the cross that its very wood has procured the salvation of the world. As terrible as it is, the cross is an act of the vulnerability, trust and love of God.
This is the love of God that is “better than wine” because it takes that which is common and base and makes it into something better. He takes wine – the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands – and transforms it into himself in the Eucharist. And, here at our tables and altars throughout the world, the sacrifice of Christ – the kiss of God – is made real and present before our very eyes. And, day after day, week after week, God reveals himself again and again to be the most vulnerable and the most trusting in this most intimate of transformative actions. Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are being kissed by him who is the first and the original lover, the author of love and who is love in his very nature.
Therefore, we must say this unto Our Lord, “I open myself to you, becoming completely vulnerable to your ability to hurt me – yet, I do it anyway, trusting in your own goodness.” And, God responds with the same vulnerability and trust, whether we’ve earned it or not (as seen in the case of Judas). And when the sinful heart of man and the sacred heart of God are turned towards each other fully, then do we begin to share in the divine life of God. In our opening ourselves to God, we experience that deep intimacy and trust that is behind every kiss of earthly lovers – to an infinite degree. In this kiss, both the soul and God say to each other, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.”