photo by Charles Edward Case

The Rev. Dr. Anna S. Pearson

On the Feast of Epiphany in some parts of central Europe, priests in festal vestments bless water, frankincense, gold and…chalk. The chalk is not used as a substitute for myrrh, but rather to mark the doors of local churches and homes. People write the initials of the names for the three Kings, which tradition—but not the Bible—tells us are Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. The first initials of these names are also an acronym for the phrase Christus mansionem bendicat; Latin for “may Christ bless this house.”

Epiphany gets lost in the intense festivities around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but it is a Principal Feast in our church year along with Christmas, All Saint’s Day, Trinity Sunday, Pentecost, Ascension and Easter. The narrative reality of Epiphany is powerful: out of the gates, the story insists that the Christ child is an offering for everyone. God means for Jesus and His message to be localized in his context and tradition as well as reverberate into the unknown beyond those borders. The mystical reality of Epiphany is just as powerful: God wants to draw the whole world to the divine love through the offering of the Christ Child at a particular time in a particular place. In celebrating Epiphany, we celebrate both the universality of the Christ event and the faith that God in Christ manifests to our world through the distinctive details of our lives.

So the chalk writing on the doors where people gather is not as quaint as it may seem on the surface. The overlapping meanings of the letters CMB link hospitality and petition. Writing out these letters on our doors and in our hearts is an intentional act, inviting strangers and travelers in and recognizing that in so doing we seek the blessing of the One who invites us all on a journey to seek the manifestation of Christ.