Solomon has done his most famous act: he has built the temple in Jerusalem to serve as the house of God in the city of his father, David. David had wanted to build it, but God had told him no, that was for his son to do and now the man had done it. The passage details the completing jobs, bringing in the dedicated treasure David had accumulated, and then the final piece was put in place, the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets Moses had brought down from Sinai during the Exodus. All of Israel (so the story tells us) was there for the consecration of the Temple and Solomon’s blessing of the people. It must have been quite a celebration.
The word “blessing” has a number of different definitions. In some places, instead of using the words “saying grace” before a meal they say they are going to “ask the blessing.” Some refer to good things that happen as “blessings.” If you’re an architect and the city gives its approbation to a plan you’ve created, it could be said that they gave it their blessing. And then there is the kind of blessing Solomon gave to the people. Blessings can be both given and received. That’s the neat thing about them.
We don’t build temples the way Solomon did, but we build homes and businesses, churches, synagogues, mosques and, yes, different kinds of temples, depending on the religious persuasion of those who cause the building to be built. Most of them (although not many houses or businesses) are actually blessed by some sort of religious person, and along with the blessing of the building, the people who will occupy and worship in it will also be blessed. In the Episcopal Church we bless new churches and the stuff that will go in them — altars, furnishings, icons, statues, crosses, linens, vestments, and the like, just like Solomon did. Other churches bless different things but all, I’m pretty sure, don’t consider it a proper place of worship until some sort of blessing and dedication takes place in and around it.
Episcopalians also bless ordinary things — pretty much anything that doesn’t scare the horses (or upset the bishop). Pets, motorcycles, rosaries, houses, boats — you ask, we’ll bless. Congregations get blessings routinely and private blessings and anointings can be arranged or be done spontaneously, depending on the need, the desire and the persons involved. We do a lot of blessing — from birth to burial and a lot of stages in between.
Marriages are ceremonies of both witness to a contract and blessing and here is where we run into a bit of a bind. We as a church and as a whole have not yet reached the point where we are as unanimous about blessing committed relationships as we are to bless a house, a cat or a new tree. Two people show up at a rectory or parish office and want to talk about a wedding and in almost every place they will be told that fine, it can happen after they have gone through some period of premarital counseling first. All that changes in most places if the two people happen to be of the same gender, no matter how long their relationship or how deep their commitment to each other. Most states don’t recognize same-sex marriage and so, since the church is acting not only in its own behalf but on behalf of the state, the church doesn’t either. Why is it so easy to bless some things that truly are mundane but so difficult to bless something representing those very values we claim to hold in highest regard: fidelity, commitment and devotion to the pursuit of building a home and a life together? We don’t require a commitment from our car, even our cat (although dog owners may differ there), yet we bless them. We bless pieces of cloth and nailed-together boards, why not committed relationships? And why are we acting as agents of the state in this matter and no other? Or at all?
We say “Bless you!” when someone sneezes and Southerners routinely say “Bless your heart” when they are touched by something you’ve done or said. “I’ll be blessed” indicates confusion or astonishment and “Bless my soul” speaks of surprise. It sounds a lot nicer than some of the ejaculatory phrases people use these days for surprise, confusion, or anything else. Perhaps it would be a better world if we did use it more — and more expansively than we do currently.
Blessings shouldn’t be caged in churches and only doled out to those we feel who might be appropriate for such a thing. I have a feeling that if anyone came to Jesus and asked for a blessing, he’d give it. He certainly blessed a lot of people with healing, curing and teaching and not a single one of those was done to build himself up or to mark him as someone extraordinary. He wasn’t even a priest — well, a recognized member of the priestly caste and profession. I think he sort of expects us to bless and be blessed by other ordinary people, folks who might not recognize a blessing as such if it bit them on the nose but who could use some encouragement, compassion, or even just a recognition of their presence and their humanity.
God bless you today. Go and share the blessings.