Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
Joshua’s commissioning in our reading from Numbers today, illustrates something that still remains a very fundamental intangible today in the Episcopal Church–the laying on of hands as a visible symbol of transfer of authority. (In fact, Louis Weil, in his book Liturgical Sense, describes it as “the basic liturgical action for all the sacraments.” One is not ordained a priest until the bishop lays a pair of ecclesiastical hands upon the noggin of the ordinand. It takes three pairs of those hands to consecrate a bishop. Confirmation and reception also require the laying on of hands by a bishop in our church.
What’s interesting is that this transfer of authority isn’t only used in “top down” fashion. On my last Sunday before going to Lui, South Sudan, I was sent off with a blessing sealed by every person in our congregation that day laying a hand on me, and we commonly do that for everything from missioners about to depart to congregants moving away to the next phase of their lives.
Every week, the priest’s hands are a conduit of the Holy Spirit, touching bread and wine and transfering that authority into the hands of all who receive the Sacraments. (Confession: It matters to me that the priest actually touches my hand rather than bombing my hand from above without the personal touch. It matters a LOT.)
These things all serve as reminders that the things we reach out in do in faith, or receive in faith, among each other, are extensions of the Holy Spirit, just as our hands are an extension of us. Its mere action causes an effect–just ask anyone who’s going through a rough patch about the effect someone putting a hand on his or her shoulder did for the situation.
The short version is, we affect what we touch, and we are affected by what touches us. Our theology recognizes power through touch, and expects us to effect that power in the world–a power that isn’t ours, but of something infinitely bigger than us.
What changes for you when you think about how your touch is an extension of the Holy Spirit? Where is a place in the world crying for your touch?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid