Do you know, or have you heard of the late 1980’s film “When Harry met Sally”? It’s a romantic comedy which follows a series of meetings and greetings between two people – Harry and Sally. These encounters take place over a period of some 10+ years and the film shows the story of the circumstances of each meeting between the two and how they relate to each other and how that relationship grows.
When Mary met Elizabeth
When I looked at this morning’s reading it made me think how the story could have been called “When Mary met Elizabeth”. Because we have a story of two people meeting and how they greet each other. I’m not sure if this is the first time they have met – it may well be that they have met before in their family circumstance.
This meeting though is a very special meeting. A meeting in special circumstances. A meeting of two excited mothers-to-be – one who thought the time of motherhood had passed her by; and one who found herself facing motherhood far earlier than she expected. They were both so amazed and joyful at what was happening for them. And how they felt was strongly reflected in how they greeted each other. I am reminded of the quote from C. S. Lewis “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” This got me thinking about how we greet each other these days.
What’s your standard greeting when you meet someone? Obviously a lot depends on who we are greeting and in what circumstances. It will be different depending on whether the greeting is to family, or a close friend, or just someone you know. Meeting someone for the first time will probably be very different from someone you know well. Familiarity is often crucial. So is social status and age. Every greeting is likely to be a combination of spoken language and body language. How we put together our own combination is a very personal matter.
How people greet each other will also vary according to different countries and different cultures, for example, here in UK the default position tends to be a rather reserved/ formal handshake (firm or limp) – the warm/terse ‘hello’ / ‘how are you’ / pleased to meet you. Increasingly though between family and friends hugging is becoming more wide spread. In France, and some other countries, as a matter of course it’s a light handshake and a light kiss on the cheek.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand the Maori’s greeting to rub noses and share their breath (the Hongi) whilst in Japan it’s the bow – varying from the lowering of the head, through the bow from the waist, to the full on your knees.
Covid cautions will have changed things but the point is that everywhere culture and tradition is different. But everywhere when greeting takes place it is often peoples’ first impression of each other and can really set the right (or wrong) tone for any relationship.
Usually we are very aware of circumstances when we make our greeting. But there are times when tradition, culture, reserve, can go out of the window. There are times when we are so excited, bubbling over inside that we abandon any sense of control and just let ourselves go; normal is pushed aside.
I like to think that Mary and Elizabeth were just like that when they met. Such amazing things had happened to them; so much had changed for them; so much good news to share.
I remember when I first knew that Jesus had come into my life; when I had such good news to share; I wanted to tell everyone I met. Shaking hands or bowing or even rubbing noses wouldn’t do – I wanted to exclaim loudly what had happened to me. I was bursting with news. I was ready to hug and kiss cheeks – whatever it took to express my excitement, my joy. And I know many of us, if not all of us, will have felt the same.
As the years have gone on have we calmed down, put on again the cloak of shyness? Perhaps withdrawn into the feeling that faith is a private matter – not to be shouted about too loudly.
God has blessed each of us
Mary and Elizabeth didn’t think so. Something had happened to them and they knew who was responsible! They didn’t hesitate to make it plain that God had blessed them.
Now that’s something we should all be mindful of and not be afraid to express – that God has blessed each of us in so many ways. Actually we probably are more mindful of God’s blessings than we realise. Think of the times the word ‘bless’ appears in our talking – ‘Bless you!’ when someone sneezes; ‘Bless you’ used as a thank you; ‘Well bless me!’ when something surprising happens; ‘Good night God bless’; ‘Goodbye God bless’. When you think about it there’s a lot of blessing going on. When Barbara was in hospital recently she was very pleasantly surprised at the number of times medical staff said bless you.
Jesus in his sermon on the mount talked of the blessings that God gives even to those who don’t realise it – Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; etc (the Beatitudes). Many, many people down the centuries have realised the blessings we each receive from God and what good news that is. And they, like Mary and Elizabeth weren’t afraid to let people know it!
Perhaps we all need to be more expressive in our greetings and relationships to reflect the good news we have to share; the blessings we have received; the knowledge that we are part of God’s family; that we are in his love and care.
There is a modern day song by Matt Redman called 10,000 reasons, the theme of which is the blessings we receive everyday form God. One verse says:
You’re rich in love and you’re slow to anger,
Your name is great and your heart is kind.
For all your goodness I will keep on singing;
10,000 reasons for my heart to find.
The chorus line goes:
“Bless the Lord O my soul,
O my soul, worship his Holy name;
Sing like never before O my soul,
I’ll worship your Holy name.”
Each of us has many, many reasons to keep on singing and share the good news we have to tell. Amen