Now that we’ve celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, many of us will have started packing away our Christmas decorations for another year (with apologies to those who wait for Candlemas to do so). We move into Ordinary—counted—Time now, as we head toward Lent and Easter. We have celebrated the coming of the magi to worship, and the revelation of Christ to the world, and heard the stirring words exhorting us to arise, and shine, for our light has come. And now, we live our
lives—changed by what we have heard and seen as we rejoice in the good news of God with us, with all of us, for all of us.
At the parish I serve, we kept the feast of the Epiphany on Sunday (our calendar rules allow us to celebrate it on the Sunday before January 6th). It’s my first year with this community, and I had the special pleasure of sharing a couple of customs in this place for the first time. One was the proclamation of Easter and the other great feasts of the Church, and the other was the blessing of chalk for use by parishioners to bless their homes.
Why announce when Easter will be, when it’s marked on our calendars, and even remembered by the Google Calendar I need to remember nearly everything? Well, before calendars were widely owned, how else would you know when we’d keep Easter? (The first Sunday after the first full moon after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox is not, after all, a date easy to reckon without access to charts and the like.) And so the Church got into the custom of proclaiming at Epiphany when Easter would be. From the date of Easter, so the date of Ash Wednesday, of Ascension Day, of Pentecost. Announcing the day and months of these movable feasts allows for a gentle reminder, too, of what we do as we gather as Church—the celebration of the saving life and work of Jesus in our midst, which we continue to celebrate and make present liturgically. This custom is about something more than just saving the date—it’s about inviting us into the entirety of our worshipping life, and wrapping ourselves in the One whose coming we have just remembered. It’s about naming and claiming as vitally important what truly matters in the year ahead. To proclaim is about more than planning—it’s a making public and declaring that our year revolves around the good news of the risen Christ, who’s paschal victory we celebrate both week by week and in the feast of Easter.
The blessing of chalk is something that I learned about from Father Michael Marsh, an Episcopal priest serving in the diocese of West Texas. His blog is not to be missed. Last year, he had an interesting post about a tradition I had encountered—that of the blessing of homes of parishioners at and around Epiphany. As he writes, “Family and friends gather to ask God’s blessing on their homes and those who live in or visit the home. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in our home, our comings and goings, our conversations, our work and play, our joys and sorrows.” But because it’s a bit difficult to arrange to bless every home of every parishioner, the custom of blessing chalk at church—which could then be taken home and used to bless the home—emerged. And so we gave everyone chalk—and black construction paper for those who lived in apartments—this Sunday, and it’s been exciting to hear how the people of this community were delighted to have an opportunity to pray for God’s blessings on those who live in their homes and those who will be welcomed, rejoicing in the way that God is made known in love and fellowship.
There are many more Epiphany customs you might celebrate—did any of you bake and share Three Kings cake for coffee hour? Or did your community bless eggs, bread, and salt? How will you, like the magi, return by another road from all that we have heard and seen and celebrated in the Incarnation in the year ahead?