Pastor’s Epistle—August, A.D. 2017 A
For years, Lammastide has marked for me the spiritual beginning of autumn. No matter how the heat of August might rage, once we’ve celebrated Lammas, the first fruits of the harvest, we know that the curtain has well and truly begun to descend upon our summer. Daylight wanes, the nights wax long, and our hearts turn to thoughts of the fall.
Lammas, the “Loaf-Mass,” is a festival of first fruits at the beginning of August, meant to coincide with the wheat harvest. It is modeled upon both the Old Testament practice (Leviticus 23) and similar folk traditions from Scotland. We bake a loaf of bread from the first sheaves of wheat, then bring it to worship for a blessing. The bread, thus blessed, is not the Eucharist—not the Body and Blood of Christ—but bread intended for healthful and thankful eating at home.
One might naturally ask, then, what exactly constitutes a Christian blessing. What makes Lammas bread, or any blessed item, different from something which has not been blessed? The answer is at once both nothing and everything.
First and foremost, a Christian blessing reveals an item for what it truly is, reveals the purpose for which God has intended it. It’s like blowing the dust off some forgotten treasure. Blessing water does not change the water into something else, but rather reaffirms the purposes for which God has given to us His good gift of water: cleansing, refreshing, bringing life to the earth. On Palm Sunday we bless palms; at Rogation we bless seed and tools and good, rich earth; on St Francis Day we bless our animals. This is to remind us that these things have been entrusted to us for our good use, that we might use these gifts for neighbor and community, for the benefit of humanity and the greater glory of God. And of course we bless people, men and women and children, to reaffirm that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, known and loved by Him, with an eternal destiny manifest in Jesus Christ.
A Christian blessing is also a prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, intercession, and protection. If we bless a car, surely it is a prayer that God guide and keep and protect us in our travels, especially our children. We bless vestments and quilts and Bibles as a prayer that through these things we may draw closer to our God and God to us. We bless oil for healing as a tangible prayer, a prayer made solid, to restore our loved ones to wholeness and health. A blessing is a prayer we can touch.
Which brings us to our third and final point: a blessing is where faith intersects with life. It is the Church thrust out into the nitty-gritty, the daily grind. We bless people and places and things so that they might be hallowed, set apart, for the work of Christ’s Body in the world. Ours is a God made flesh in Jesus Christ, so that we can see and touch and taste Him in the Word and in the Sacraments. His promises likewise are made solid, made flesh, so that He may go out—in and with and through us!—into a world still very much in need of forgiveness and healing and new life. A blessing is a continuation, an extension, of the Incarnation by which the Creator and Creation are made one in Christ.
So that’s why we bless bread—normal, everyday, ground wheat bread—at Lammas. We bless it to reassert what a miracle bread truly is, given to us and to all of humankind daily for life and good nourishment. We bless it as a prayer of thanksgiving, and a petition that God bring us health and peace of body and soul. And we bless it to take God’s blessing out from the four walls of our sanctuary, out into every corner of Creation in space and in time, out to reach the least, the lost, and the lonely, out to manifest God’s Kingdom in the particular life that we are given, as we serve gladly and await patiently the harvest at the end of the age.
Happy Lammastide, my brothers and sisters. May it bring blessing to all of you and all of yours.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Credit to whom credit is due: the threefold reflection on blessing above is adapted from Fr Brian Andrew Jaye, OCA, who spoke on Christian blessing in the tradition of Fr Alexander Schmemann at a recent retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity.