I noticed something the other day that got me thinking. I was in the grocery store standing in the check-out line. I could see a customer at the front of the line chatting with the checker, lingering to the finish the conversation. The person in front of me was up next. The checker asked her, “Do you have any interesting plans for the day?” She did not really respond to the greeting. It was my turn next and I received the same question. I realized he had intentionally thought about how he wanted to interact with customers. It was not always effective but he had a signature greeting.
Have you ever thought about how you greet people?
The way we greet each other is important. Our children are looking at colleges. We discovered one school that has an honor code. It is an important part of the school culture. They also intentionally encourage students to look up when walking around campus and greet one another with eye contact and a friendly greeting. As a result, the school is known as a friendly place with happy students.
I remember learning how to write a letter as a child. There was certain way to do it. It included a heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature. Remember writing letters? Of course now, much of our writing comes in the form of emails. We often see more of an emphasis on the closing than the greeting of an email. After the signature you often find a title, phone number and additional contact information. You may find a brand image, slogan, quote or mission statement. I wonder if we need to spend a little more time thinking about the greeting?
One of the most famous letter writers I can think of his the apostle Paul. We are still reading his letters. It is interesting to note, that much like today, there were great divisions among the people he addressed. In his day the world was divided between Jew and Gentile, male and female. slave and free. How did he greet diverse groups of people?
Paul used the same greeting in each letter, “grace and peace to you”. It was quite striking. People had never heard such a greeting before. Paul was mindful of who he was speaking to and shared a message they could connect with and grow into. It was common for the Greeks to greet another with a grace wish. It was common for Jews to greet one another with a wish for peace. To put the two together and offer them to both groups was something new. Paul did not say “grace to you my Gentile friends and peace to you my Jewish friends.” He addressed them together and by so doing, encouraged a new sense of community.
Some bible scholars feel we can even learn something from the order of the words in Paul’s greeting. Grace (charis in greek) is a gift. It is something you can never get but can only be given. Frederick Buechner says that good sleep is grace. The smell of rain is grace. Loving someone is grace. He writes, ”The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are.’” *
Dallas Willard explains, “Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we can’t accomplish on our own.” It is a blessing to wish one grace.
Peace (shalom in Hebrew) was a gift to Jews. Shalom is the blessing of fullness of life and the sense of rest or peace that comes in the assurance of knowing things will turn out as they are supposed to. Tim Keller shares, “God created all things to be in a beautiful, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another…The interwoveness is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace.” **
Paul had a signature greeting. He wanted his readers to know grace: God’s activity in their lives. In that, there is peace.
Grace and peace to you.
What would you like your signature greeting to be?
What blessing are you wishing to receive right now?
* Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words
** Tim Keller, Generous Justice